Ulbricht was arrested in late 2013, after the FBI closed in on Silk Road operators. His online handle was ‘Dread Pirate Roberts’.
The FBI estimates that Silk Road sales totalled more than $1.2 billion, allowing Ulbricht to generate $79.3 million in commissions.
A guide to security done wrong
The feds managed to grab Ulbricht’s laptop before he could destroy or encrypt incriminating data by staging a domestic dispute in public. A male and female agent started arguing, distracting Ulbricht and allowing agents to snatch the laptop while it was still on. [J. Edgar Hoover would have been proud. Ed]
The computer proved to be a veritable gold mine of evidence, making the government’s case bulletproof. The trial lasted just three weeks and it took the jury a single day to convict Ulbricht. Faced with such overwhelming evidence, the defence was forced to concoct outlandish conspiracy theories, but all was in vain.
For some reason Ulbricht thought it was a good idea to store chat logs, incriminating documents and bitcoin wallets on his own computer, but now he will have a few decades to reflect on his security faux pas. For a "criminal mastermind" he obviously wasn't that good at what he did.
Lunatics come out in force
Following his arrest, Ulbricht gained a lot of support in some circles, namely among radical libertarians, crypto-anarchists, critics of the War on Drugs, bitcoiners and all sorts of conspiracy cranks.
Many viewed his arrest as an attack on personal freedom, political persecution and whatnot. While the public is increasingly open to the idea of legalising marijuana, Ulbricht is hardly a poster boy for the movement and does not help the cause. He wasn’t motivated by a higher goal, he was in it for the money.
Worse, Silk Road was used to sell much more than pot. The site also allowed people to trade some rather nasty stuff, including hard drugs, weapons, poisons and toxins like ricin. The government also found evidence that Ulbricht tried to hire hitmen in an effort to cover his tracks, using Stalin’s “no man, no problem” approach.
The fact that he is considered a hero in some circles just goes to show there is no shortage of troubled and misguided people on the Interwebs.