Trump considers clemency for Silk Road kingpin Ross Ulbricht

Dark web person with code for a face
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President Trump is considering clemency for Ross Ulbricht, founder of the Silk Road dark web marketplace, before he leaves office.

Sources told the Daily Beast that the president was considering commuting Ulbricht's sentence and had been reviewing documents related to his case at the White House.

Ulbricht, 36, launched Silk Road in February 2011. The site, which the FBI shut down in October 2013, connected buyers and sellers on the dark web, usually for drug deals. It facilitated at least 1,229,465 transactions and generated 614,305 bitcoins in commissions. At the time of his arrest, that represented $183 million. At today's values, that amounts to $12.7 billion in cryptocurrency.

In 2015, a jury convicted Ulbricht on seven charges: distributing or aiding in the distribution of narcotics, distributing narcotics over the internet, violating narcotics laws, conspiracy to run a continuing criminal enterprise, computer hacking, distributing false identification, and money laundering.

The recommended sentence under US guidelines was life in prison with a 20-year mandatory minimum. Judge Katherine Forrest handed down two life sentences, one 20-year sentence, one 15-year sentence, and another five-year sentence, all to be served concurrently without the possibility of parole.

In a sentencing submission, prosecutors had requested 'a lengthy sentence, one substantially above the mandatory minimum." The submission letter argued the Silk Road leader was responsible for the drug-related deaths of at least six people and had also solicited multiple murders to protect his enterprise. None of the murders were carried out.

Ulbricht, who operated under the moniker Dread Pirate Roberts when running the site, appealed his life sentence but lost in 2017.

His supporters frequently point to the disparities between Ulbricht's sentence and those of others, including Thomas White, the creator of Silk Road 2.0, who received five years and four months in jail.

President Trump has pardoned 29 people so far, including 11 this year. His pardons have included people convicted of money laundering, attempted cocaine possession, aiding in the preparation of false tax returns, bank robbery, murder, racketeering, mail fraud, campaign contribution fraud, obstruction of justice, and violation of the White Slave Traffic Act. He has also commuted 16 sentences. His use of pardons lags behind all other modern presidents, according to Pew.

Danny Bradbury

Danny Bradbury has been a print journalist specialising in technology since 1989 and a freelance writer since 1994. He has written for national publications on both sides of the Atlantic and has won awards for his investigative cybersecurity journalism work and his arts and culture writing. 

Danny writes about many different technology issues for audiences ranging from consumers through to software developers and CIOs. He also ghostwrites articles for many C-suite business executives in the technology sector and has worked as a presenter for multiple webinars and podcasts.