Silk Road

Ross Ulbricht's Murder-for-Hire Charges Dropped by U.S. Attorney

While the Silk Road founder's reputation has already been sullied by the untried accusations, the feds give up on those charges after Supreme Court declines to hear Ulbricht's appeal on his original conviction and sentencing.


Having reported on Ross Ulbricht's prosecution since the beginning, I've found a startlingly large number of people who didn't follow the case closely believe his life sentence without parole for acts connected with launching the darkweb sales site Silk Road was because he was convicted for attempting to pay for the murder of people who'd stolen from or threatened him.

That's not true; such charges were no part of the crimes he was actually convicted for. The waters were muddied, almost certainly with cold deliberation, by the federal government because they had a separate indictment out of Maryland hanging over him for the past nearly five years that did include such accusations.

Last week Robert Hur, U.S. Attorney for the district of Maryland, filed a motion to have the indictment containing those charges dropped.

"Mr. Ulbricht's conviction and life sentence in the case handled by the United States Attorney's Office for the Southern District of New York have been affirmed by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit, and the Supreme Court has declined to hear the case," Hur said in a written statement. "We have dismissed the federal charges based on the same conduct pending against Mr. Ulbricht in Maryland, which allows us to direct our resources to other cases where justice has not yet been served."

Hur's statement contained an important misleading element. It isn't true that Ulbricht's serving his ridiculously punitive sentence based on the "same conduct" as in the dropped indictment from Maryland. That indictment includes a charge of "attempted witness murder" and many lurid details of the specifics of his alleged involvement in a case of (never actually committed) murder and torture. Those charges were no part of what Ulbricht was actually tried and sentenced for.

The real tragedy haunting this otherwise good news is the mere fact of the accusations, despite never being proven in court, played into the insanely and unprecedentedly draconian sentence Ulbricht received. The failed appeal to the Supreme Court wanted them to judge the propriety of sentencing based on unadjudicated accusations, but alas the Court didn't want to bother.

Some close to Ulbricht's defense, such as his mother Lyn Ulbricht, also wonder if the fact that the murder for hire accusations rely on the work of federal agents who were themselves charged for crimes committed in the course of the investigation into Silk Road might have played a role in the failure to ever go to trial on those accusations. The U.S. Attorney's office would not comment today on any possibility that might have played any role in their decision to drop that indictment.

It's good that the charges have been dropped, but the government's careless use of them as a media weapon to destroy Ulbricht's reputation and to encourage the sentencing judge to be far harsher than the crimes he was convicted on actually would warrant have alas already done their damage. It's hard not to think that was exactly why the indictment came down yet never went to court.

As Lyn Ulbricht said in a written statement, "We will be very relieved to have this indictment against Ross finally dismissed. It was the only indictment against him that included murder-for-hire, which made it especially harmful. By leaving it unprosecuted for almost five years? and Ross under a cloud of unproven allegations?the Maryland AUSA poisoned Ross's case. The Sixth Amendment right to a speedy, and hopefully fair, trial was written to protect the accused from this."

Now that Ulbricht has no chance of having his initial conviction and sentencing overturned or adjusted, it's likely the feds out of Maryland decided the indictment no longer was needed to make sure the government had some further means in their back pocket to punish Ulbricht for showing a safer, saner way around their insanely damaging drug war.