In a 2015 legal case that sent shockwaves through the crypto world, Ross Ulbricht was sentenced to life in prison without parole for his role in creating and running the billion-dollar Silk Road online black market. Below in an interview for BTCManager, Ross’ mom Lyn provides a behind the scenes update on her son’s’ imprisonment as well as her “no holds barred” view of the U.S. judicial system.
What sort of Update Can You Provide Us with regarding Ross and His Case?
A petition for a rehearing was filed with the second circuit panel, which is the typically the next step. Here we basically providing them with a series of reasons requesting that they reconsider their decision. That was submitted on July 31, 2017. I’ve been told that it is rare for the second circuit to grant a rehearing. They only take like a couple of cases a year. But it’s always worth a try.
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Given the Unlikelihood of this, What would be the Next Step?
The next step in the system is to petition the U.S. Supreme Court to hear it. So that would be the next step.
In the Meantime, Ross has been from a Prison Facility in New York to one in Colorado. Can You tell us More?
It’s in many ways a much better place for him because where he was in New York was a transitional facility. So it’s not really setup for long-term living, although some people do live there for years and years. And he was there for three and a half years.
What is Different about this Facility?
Colorado is a high, maximum security prison but it’s not the super max. Frankly, the only reason Ross is even in a high security is that his sentence is so long. If the judge had given him 30 years or less, he’d be in a medium security. What’s crazy about this is that his security rating is very, very low. Probably as low as yours or mine would be, unless they would have waived this which they did not. So he gets to be in a high security environment even though nothing about him personally shows that he needs to be there.
How has it Changed Life for Ross?
While in New York, he only got outside once every few days for an hour on top of the roof in Manhattan. There is a lot more space for him here in Colorado. It’s a much bigger, very big facility, from what I hear from him. He now gets to go outside many hours a day. Its beautiful, you can see past the fence and there are the mountains and the sky. He can watch the sunrise, he can get sun, he can get fresh air. This is a huge wonderful thing for someone who has not been allowed those things in three and a half years.
Why do You Believe that Ross Received such a Harsh Sentence for a Non-violent Offense?
They said that they wanted to make an example of him, which I question the justice of that. I don’t. I thought we were judged as individuals not as an example. But I think what they were making an example of, and they even said this, is the way in which he used the Internet. They basically said ‘you were the first, so you have to shoulder the burden of anyone who did it later. You have to be take the heat for the entire dark web.’
How Much of this do You Believe was Tied to the Drug Aspect of Silk Road?
At first I thought it was tied primarily to drugs and the drug war, but then when I saw the sentences of the other defendants in the Silk Road case that were drug offenders, and saw how low they were in comparison to that of Ross, I thought, no, this isn’t about drugs. For example, the biggest drug dealer on Silk Road got 10 years, the biggest heroin and cocaine dealer got five, the biggest meth dealer got three. Not terribly big sentences.
What then Do You Think really Alarmed Them?
I believe that what really alarmed them was Bitcoin and Tor privacy. That suddenly there was this alternative currency outside of government control which operated privately and anonymously. I think those are the things they were really going after and that they really wanted to put a stop to.
In Your View were there Other Factors?
Sure there is the (libertarian) philosophical aspect of it. The judge herself in sentencing referenced Ross’ political beliefs when she sentenced him to life. She noted that because she wasn’t sure that he’d given up his dangerous libertarian, voluntary, free market views that he’d have have to stay in prison for life.
What Have You Learned about the Criminal Justice System as a result of this Ordeal?
I went into this trusting that there would be fairness and that you go to trial and you get to tell your side to a jury. And they rule on it. I just expected that all of the evidence would be known and that was how it worked. I expected that the prosecution would provide the discovery in a way in a fair and impartial manner. I expected a lot of things to be fair. And what I learned is that it is not. It’s completely stacked against the defendant. The government as far as I can tell comes up with all kinds of ways to block your ability to defend yourself, that all the evidence is not necessarily known at all.
I thought ‘OMG, this is our country.’ I honestly thought we had a justice system consistent with what our founders intended. And from my perspective it is is very, very far from that.
When You Meet Others in the Cryptocurrency Community, What are they Saying?
They are very supportive of what I’m trying to shine a light on, not only on Ross’ case but the bigger issues. They are also very supportive and helpful. And they are always sending good wishes. In the end, they see the larger implications as well. And they see the injustice. Being around others in the crypto and libertarian communities recharges my batteries because sometimes I feel very alone in this.