It wasn’t too long ago that Ross William Ulbricht was writing his master’s thesis for a degree in chemical engineering. Now the 29-year-old San Franciscan is looking at spending many years in jail after being arrested by federal authorities on a variety of drug trafficking charges.
The purported founder of Silk Road, the notorious drug trafficking website, was arrested Tuesday by the FBI and appeared in a San Francisco federal court on Wednesday. A bail hearing was set for Friday. Silk Road, an online marketplace where more than 900,000 registered users bought and sold everything from cocaine to heroin to molly (aka the new ecstasy craze) was shut down after roughly three years in operation.
Reuters reporter Emily Flitter spoke to Ulbricht’s parents in Austin, Texas, and the couple not suprisingly seemed shocked by the allegations against their son. Said Ulbricht’s mother, Lyn Lacava: “I know he never meant to hurt anyone.”
How Ulbricht made the transition from a Penn State student with a masters in material science to the alleged mastermind behind a platform for international drug trafficking isn’t clear. Presumably that story will come out as the case against Ulbricht winds it way through the courts.
But the Silk Road story isn’t a totally a new one.
In media reports the past year about the growing popularity of Bitcoin with the Silicon Valley set, Silk Road often emerged as the darker side of digital currencies and websites that permit customers to conduct business in anonymity. Users of Silk Road could only make payments in bitcoin and hid behind pseudonyms, all part of the design to conceal their identities. Ulbricht’s alias was Dread Pirate Roberts which he simply shortened overtime to DPR.