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'Silk Road' founder seeks clemency for drug conviction

Ross Ulbricht is serving life in prison for being a drug kingpin. His case is somewhat unusual because he wasn't convicted for his own dealings, but for creating the infamous "Silk Road," the black-market website that others used for drug deals.

The Silk Road was a massive network on the so-called "dark web," the part of the internet that isn't accessible by a simple search on Google. For years it's been a haven for all sorts of illegal activity. Relatively easy to access with just a little research, many drug dealers and users relished the anonymity it provided as they carried out their business.

Ulbricht, using the name "Dread Pirate Roberts," built the site that brought dealers and buyers together, which functioned much like Amazon or eBay for drugs and other illegal goods. Just 30 years of age when he was arrested, he was sentenced to multiple life terms in prison back in 2015 for computer crimes, money laundering and using the internet in a narcotics-trafficking conspiracy.

His story is an important lesson for others because it illustrates how aggressively prosecutors and judges are reacting to drug trafficking and internet crimes these days. Ulbricht's defense attorneys sought a minimal sentence, even probation, for their client for his nonviolent role -- which was largely confined to simply giving others a place in cyberspace to make their deals. They were stunned when the judge handed down a sentence that pretty much assures Ulbricht will never leave prison.

With his appeals already denied, Ulbricht is now turning to a familiar place for assistance: the internet. His family has begun to pass along messages to supporters via Twitter and other websites and a petition to grant Ulbricht clemency has already gathered more than 55,000 signatures. Many of those supporters feel that the sentence he was given was shockingly unfair -- worse than he likely would have received had he murdered someone.

Anyone accused of using the internet to facilitate a drug crime should consider Ulbricht's story a cautionary tale. It's important to seek legal advice immediately, even if you only think that you may be under investigation.

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