Silk Road

Operator of 'Silk Road 2.0' Likely Avoided Prison by Cooperating with Feds

Meanwhile, Ross Ulbricht has to spend life in prison without parole.


Ross Ulbricht, convicted of various crimes associated with launching the dark web site Silk Road, was sent away in 2015 for life without chance of parole. In his case, the government purported to believe that websites that allow people to exchange bitcoin for illegal objects are so damaging, so heinous, that justice demanded nothing less.

Yet after the original Silk Road was taken down in late 2013, the idea of a website that allowed the anonymous exchange of bitcoin for the mailing of possible contraband lived on under many guises, including one explicitly called "Silk Road 2.0." Law enforcement took that one down too in late 2014.

One of the site's alleged operators was Blake Benthall, who reportedly used the pseudonyn "Defcon." Benthall was charged very similarly to Ulbricht, as the Justice Department crowed at the time, with "one count of conspiring to commit narcotics trafficking…one count of conspiring to commit computer hacking…one count of conspiring to traffic in fraudulent identification documents…and one count of money laundering conspiracy."

Vice reports, based on a document the site obtained last week, that Benthall got a much better deal that involved simply paying off back taxes:

"If the defendant [Benthall] fully complies with the understandings specified in this Agreement, he will not be further prosecuted criminally by this Office for any crimes, except for criminal tax violations," relating to operation of Silk Road 2.0, the document, signed by an Assistant United States Attorney, reads….

The document says that if Benthall fully complies, "no testimony or other information given by him (or any other information directly or indirectly derived therefrom) will be used against him in any criminal tax prosecution." It adds that he shall file accurate tax returns for 2013 and 2014—the years he helped run Silk Road 2.0—and that he will pay back taxes due to the Internal Revenue Service.

The last entry in the docket of Benthall's case dates from 2015. The U.S. Attorney's Office for the Southern District of New York, which handled Benthall's prosecution, declined to comment. One of Benthall's attorneys also declined to comment.

Others involved in the Silk Road 2.0 arrests got jail time, though no sentences were nearly as severe as the message-sending test case of Ulbricht's life without parole. Vice did not describe the specific nature of Benthall's cooperation.

It almost seems that the U.S. justice system isn't sincere or consistent when it comes to what a heinous danger to society it represents to have a man who did nothing but facilitate the safer exchange of money for drugs walk free. If you don't help out the feds, you can never see light as a free man again. If you do, just pay your taxes and everything will be cool. One might suspect the U.S. justice system works more to protect its own interests than justice or the safety of the citizenry.

recently lauded study from the National Bureau of Economic Research looked at the effects of cell phone adoption on drug-sales-related murders. It concluded that separating drug transactions from the need to control physical space makes illegal drug sales less dangerous to the people involved and to society at large. Silk Road furthered that separation magnificently, thus making drug sales safer.

For that, Ulbricht will spend his life in prison. For piggybacking on that innovation, plus cooperating with law enforcement, Benthall just has to pay his tax bill.


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  1. "For that, Ulbricht will spend his life in prison."

    Ulbricht is spending his life in prison for attempted murder in a murder for hire plot. Yes the justice department didn't even charge him for it, let alone get a conviction but that didn't stop Judge Forrest, she knew.

    1. Yeah sentencing people based on untried accusations is totally defensible, doesn't conflict at all with our core principles of justice.

      1. Look, other than the fact that she specifically mentioned it, you have no proof that she considered this in her sentencing decision.

        1. "Sometimes a Great Notion" was the commenter who proposed that theory, as a way of defending the sentence. As you pointed out it's just a theory; as I pointed out, it's not a valid defense of the sentence anyway.

  2. I am, again, unsure what Reason is trying to say in an article like this.

    Both men facilitated illegal drug sales at an institutional and industrial level. Illegal drug sales that individually are associated with long prison sentences.

    One of them decided to "stick it to the man." The other hiked up his skirt when busted and made a deal.

    I'm pretty sure pissing off a large organization that has the ability to jail you is generally going to result in that organization f'ing you pretty hard.

    1. Most sites that consider themselves political spend time differentiating between the way thing work in our current legal reality and the way we wish they should work in a free and fair society.

      That's kind of the point of the article. And you know that. Playing ignorant is a pretty poor strategy when the goal is making other people look dumb.

    2. I guess (and so did Doherty) you forgot that the judge in the Ulbricht case case in her sentencing report used accusations of a murder for hire plot that was never charged to justify the sentence. Not to mention the fact that two of the investigators on the case were charge with extorting money from Ulbricht.

      But yeah the government was just enforcing the law as written not doing anything wrong at all. What, as libertarians, do we want rule of law or Somalia?

    3. You say that like the prohibition of drugs and the enforcement of said prohibition somehow justify each other, so there's nothing to see here. Neither one of them was convicted of anything that should be a crime.

      1. Look... they ran a website. Where just anyone could post things.

        Yeah.... that puts it in a different light, doesn't it?

        1. Look....they facilitated consensual transactions. Are you surprised to see people on a libertarian site defending that? No different light here at all.

    4. How did Ross Ulbricht "stick it to the man"?

      1. He said "that's not me". You can't do that. You have to say "I'm terribly sorry, how can I help you catch other people?" Some people get confused about that.. That's why they need to periodically drop the hammer.

  3. The point is that none of this should be illegal. The point is that the whole plea bargaining scam is a travesty. The point is that the government doesn’t care about you, and proves it time and again, by lying about it’s true motives (actually, they just lie about everything).

  4. Not only did Silk Road invent a new and much safer way to facilitate drug sales, it created an information exchange which allowed buyers to much more easily avoid and mitigate any risks associated with using their preferred substances. The larger model is also immune to the whack-a-mole prohibition game, as the continued existence and expanding use of these types of services proves.

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