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A Life Sentence for a Drug Mastermind

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Nicole Hong reports for the WSJ:

A federal appeals court Wednesday affirmed the conviction and life sentence of Ross Ulbricht, the mastermind behind Silk Road, an online drug bazaar that was once described by the government as the most sophisticated criminal marketplace on the internet.

In a 139-page ruling, a three-judge panel of the Second U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Manhattan upheld a lower court's decision to sentence Mr. Ulbricht, now 33 years old, to life in prison. A federal jury found him guilty in 2015 of seven criminal charges related to Silk Road, including conspiracies to sell drugs and launder money.
The life sentence, which Mr. Ulbricht's lawyers said is extremely rare for a drug defendant with no criminal history, was widely debated in the law-enforcement community. U.S. District Judge Katherine Forrest gave the sentence in May 2015, after an emotionally charged, three-hour hearing.

Judge Gerard Lynch, writing for the panel, said "although we might not have imposed the same sentence ourselves in the first instance," the life sentence was warranted because of the extraordinary circumstances surrounding Mr. Ulbricht's conduct.

The judges pointed in particular to five attempted murders that Mr. Ulbricht allegedly commissioned to protect the anonymity of Silk Road, which operated on a hidden part of the internet called the Tor network.

At trial, prosecutors presented evidence showing Mr. Ulbricht paid $650,000 in bitcoins, a digital currency, for the killings.

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