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Ross Ulbricht, 31, who has been sentenced to life in prison image

Ross Ulbricht, 31, who has been sentenced to life in prison.

The American convicted of masterminding the criminal website Silk Road has been sentenced in court to life in prison over the online enterprise that sold $US200 million ($261 million) in drugs to customers worldwide.

It was the maximum possible punishment for Ross Ulbricht, who was convicted in February by a jury on seven counts of narcotics trafficking, criminal enterprise, computer hacking and money laundering.

The 31-year-old with a graduate degree displayed no emotion on Friday as he stood in dark prison scrubs to hear his fate read by US Federal Judge Katherine Forrest, as his devoted parents sat in the packed gallery.

Lyn Ulbricht, mother of Ross Ulbricht, speaks to journalists outside court image
Lyn Ulbricht, mother of Ross Ulbricht, speaks to journalists outside court. Photo: ReutersUlbricht, who ran Silk Road under the alias “Dread Pirate Roberts” and was alleged to have commissioned five murders at a cost of $US650,000 ($850,000) but never charged for them, was sentenced to two life sentences for narcotics distribution and criminal enterprise.
AdvertisementHe also received the maximum sentence of five, 15 and 20 years for hacking, trafficking in false documents and money laundering convictions.

In the gallery, his mother put her head in her hand.
Silk Road website shows thumbnails for products allegedly available through the site.image

This frame grab from the Silk Road website shows thumbnails for products allegedly available through the site.

It was a stunning fall from privilege for Ulbricht, who the government said amassed $US13 million ($17 million) in commissions by making the purchase of heroin, cocaine and crystal meth as easy as shopping online at eBay or Amazon.

Prosecutors said the narcotics-trafficking enterprise resulted in at least six drug-related deaths.

Crimes were ‘unprecedented’

“You should serve your life in prison,” Forrest told Ulbricht, saying there was no parole in the US federal system.

“What you did was unprecedented,” she said. “You have to pay the consequences of this.”

Forrest said the court also sought the forfeiture of more than $US183.9 million ($240 million) in Silk Road drug profits.

The parents of a 25-year-old Boston man and a 16-year-old Australian schoolboy, who both died after ingesting drugs obtained from Silk Road, spoke of their devastating loss.

“I strongly believe my son would be here today if Ross Ulbricht had never created Silk Road,” said one of the parents, identified only as Richard.

But Ulbricht made little mention of their anguish, sniffing and sobbing his way through a self-pitying statement before the court.

He told Forrest that he wanted to “tell you about myself from my perspective”, and denied that he was greedy and vain.

He also promised that he now respected the law and would never break it again if released.

“I’m not a self-centered, sociopathic person… I just made some very serious mistakes.”

His four-week trial had been considered a landmark case in the murky world of online crime and government surveillance.

Given the significant public interest in the case, Forrest said his sentence had to serve as a deterrent to anyone looking to step into his shoes, and must reflect the severity of his crimes and protect society.

Right to appeal

The defence had requested the mandatory minimum sentence of 20 years and Ulbricht has the right to appeal.

The sentence was the maximum possible under US federal law on each count – tougher even more than the lengthy sentence sought by government prosecutors.

Forrest read from chilling online messages and journal entries that she said showed Ulbricht had displayed “arrogance”, knew exactly what he was doing and had an escape plan to flee the country.

“I’m running a goddamn multimillion-dollar criminal enterprise,” she read out.

His own writings proved that he was “callous as to the consequences and the harm and suffering it may cause others”, she said.

The government said Silk Road conducted 50,000 sales of heroin, 80,000 sales of cocaine and 30,000 of methamphetamine – highly addictive and dangerous drugs.

Forrest said Ulbricht was no better than a common drug dealer and blind to the collateral damage to society caused by expanding the drugs market.

“I don’t know you feel a lot of remorse for the people you hurt. I don’t know you know you hurt a lot of people.”

She said she found “profoundly moving” the nearly 100 letters written from family and friends testifying to a kind, intelligent and loved friend, saying that he was a “very complex” person.

Ulbricht created the Silk Road in January 2011, and owned and operated the underground site until it was shut down by the FBI in October 2013, when he was arrested in a San Francisco library.

The government called it “the most sophisticated and extensive criminal marketplace on the internet” used by vendors in more than 10 countries in North America and Europe.

Correction: An earlier version of this article stated that Ulbricht commissioned five murders at a cost of $US650,000 ($850,000). He was accused of these murders by law-enforcement but was never charged for them.



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THE long slippery slope towards a life sentence began for Pasquale Barbaro in June 2007, when customs officials on Melbourne’s docks singled out a container of what was branded as Italian tinned tomatoes.

When X-rays showed ”image anomalies”, the customs officers opened them, uncovering 15 million ecstasy tablets weighing a massive 4.4 tonnes – Australia’s biggest ever drug bust and the world’s largest ecstasy haul.

From then, the fates of Barbaro, his cousin, Saverio Zirilli, and four other men were sealed.

The Age.  NEWS.  Supplied.  23RD JUNE 2003.  Pasquale Barbaro - murder victim.  Taken from Il Globo obituaries page 23rd June 2003. qdp030623.004.002
Pasquale Barbaro.

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The downfall of Barbaro and Zirilli is a reminder of the reach of the ‘Ndrangheta, an Italian organised crime group with ties to the region around Griffith district in NSW Australia.Barbaro’s father, Francesco ”Little Trees” Barbaro, was named by the 1979 Woodward royal commission as a member of a secretive clique of Calabrians who lived in the Griffith region and who were linked to the organised italian crime group’Ndrangheta. There is no suggestion he is involved in the Melbourne drug  importation.

Barbaro, 50, and Zirilli, 55, pleaded guilty last year in Victoria’s Supreme Court to charges of trafficking ecstasy and attempting to possess cocaine, but their pleas remained secret until yesterday, when the other four men were convicted.

The final nail in the group’s coffin, in July 2008, was an attempt to smuggle 100 kilograms of cocaine, hidden in bags of Colombian coffee beans, into Australia. Officials had X-rayed the cargo and found the stash of drugs.


Less than a fortnight after the discovery, police raided properties all over south-eastern Australia, arresting syndicate members and others.

FBI charges

11 internet poker kingpins

April 16, 2011
Daniel Tzvetkoff has become a prized FBI informant in a bid to avoid a 75 year jail sentence.
Daniel Tzvetkoff has become a prized FBI informant in a bid to avoid a 75 year jail sentence. Photo: Glen Hunt

Australian internet whiz Daniel Tzvetkoff, who has become a prized FBI informant in a bid to avoid a 75 year jail sentence in the US, may have brought down the multi-billion dollar American online poker industry.

The FBI announced on Friday it had charged 11 people, including the founders of three of the largest internet poker companies in the US, with bank fraud, money laundering and illegal gambling offences.

The three poker sites – PokerStars, Full Tilt Poker and Absolute Poker – have been shut down. 

It is believed Gold Coast entrepreneur Tzvetkoff’s decision to turn super-grass and reveal to authorities the secret schemes used by poker companies to illegally launder billions of dollars via phony bank accounts and shell companies helped the FBI and New York prosecutors build their case.

“These defendants, knowing full well that their business with US customers and US banks was illegal, tried to stack the deck,” FBI assistant director Janice Fedarcyk, in announcing Friday’s charges, said.

“They lied to banks about the true nature of their business.”

The internet gambling kingpins, including Isai Scheinberg and Paul Tate of PokerStars, Raymond Bitar and Nelson Burtnick of Full Tilt Poker and Scott Tom and Brent Beckley of Absolute Poker, face 30-year sentences in US jails.

A year ago it was 28-year-old one-time Queensland high-flyer Tzvetkoff who faced the long stint in the US federal prison system for money laundering, bank fraud and other charges.

US authorities arrested Tzvetkoff exactly a year ago (April 16) when he visited one of the top casinos on the Las Vegas strip, the Wynn, for a gambling conference.

Tzvetkoff was painted by prosecutors as the brains behind the creation of an illegal system for processing $US500 million in transactions between US gamblers and internet gaming websites. Tzvetkoff allegedly created phony shell companies with names unrelated to gambling to process the transactions.

US federal prosecutors vigorously fought to keep Tzvetkoff in jail, battling and eventually overturning a Las Vegas judge’s decision to grant the Australian bail.

Tzvetkoff was transferred to a New York jail and sat there until June when in a surprise about-face, he was quietly released with his whereabouts unknown.

“He’s turned the corner, seen the light and is co-operating,” former FBI agent Harold Copus, after reviewing the details of the case, told AAP.

It is believed Tzvetkoff and his fiancee, Nicole Crisp, are being held in a safe house.

Mr Copus, head of Atlanta-based private investigative company Copus Security Consultants, said that was normal procedure for a high-value informant.

Prosecutors and Tzvetkoff’s Boston-based lawyer Robert Goldstein have refused to comment on the Tzvetkoff case.

Tzvetkoff’s life in exclusion and period in Las Vegas and New York jails was polar opposite to his flamboyant former life as an internet high-flyer.

Just a few years ago Tzvetkoff, who created Brisbane-based internet payment processing company Intabill, had an estimated personal worth of $A82 million, bought a $A27 million home on the Gold Coast, drove Lamborghinis and Ferraris and sponsored a professional motor racing team.

Prosecutors during last year’s bail hearing in Las Vegas suggested Tzvetkoff may have a secret stash of $US100 million in money netted from illegal dealings.



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