Blockchain Bites: Bitcoin Crushes All-Time High, Surges Above $20K; 'Free Ross' Movement Gains Trump's Ear

Bitcoin is trading above $20,000, Ruffer confirmed its 45,000 BTC allocation and President Trump is weighing a pardon for Silk Road's Ross Ulbricht.

AccessTimeIconDec 16, 2020 at 5:34 p.m. UTC
Updated Sep 14, 2021 at 10:44 a.m. UTC

It’s a good day to be a bitcoiner. The top cryptocurrency by market cap officially crossed the $20,000 level, according to CoinDesk’s Bitcoin Price Index. 

Top shelf

Hedge trimmings?
Ruffer, a $27 billion London-based asset manager, allocated 2.7% of the firm's assets under management to bitcoin in November, according to a client memo. That’s some $744 million of fresh capital plowed into the top crypto by market cap. "We see this as a small but potent insurance policy against the continuing devaluation of the world's major currencies," the firm said. Ruffer is the latest multi-billion dollar fund manager to bet on bitcoin as an inflation-resistant hedge. 

Building on ether
The Chicago Mercantile Exchange (CME) announced Wednesday it will launch a futures contract on ether, the world’s second-largest cryptocurrency by market value, in February 2021. CME Group said it was “building on the success of bitcoin futures and options” launched three years ago, which has become synonymous with institutional trading. According to some, there’s a growing class of “ether-first” corporate traders.

Crypto checking
New York-based Quontic Bank has become the first FDIC-insured financial institution to launch a bitcoin rewards checking program. Joining a long line of crypto rewards cards, this is the first that will be overseen by the U.S. Office of the Comptroller of the Currency (OCC). Acting Comptroller Brian Brooks has hinted at more “good” actions on crypto by the end of President Trump’s term. 

Quick bites

  • BECOMING SELF SOVEREIGN: A how-to guide for setting up a Bitcoin node. (CoinDesk)
  • PAPER-FREE: The German government cabinet passed legislation on Wednesday allowing all-electronic securities to be recorded using blockchain technology. (CoinDesk)
  • NIFTY NFTs: Jess Klein writes about the growing art scene behind Nifty Gateway’s success. (Input)
  • TEMPORARY REGIME: The U.K.’s top financial watchdog has extended an imminent deadline for registering a crypto business to mid-2021. (Decrypt)
  • MAJOR M&A: Japanese financial firm SBI Holdings buys European crypto market maker B2C2. (Modern Consensus)
  • ‘HAPPY STAKING’: Ethereum Foundation researcher Danny Ryan sat for an interview hours before Ethereum 2.0 went live. (CoinDesk)

Market intel

Fresh high
Bitcoin flew past its previous all-time high set on Dec. 1, and is now trading hands around $20,700 at press time. After three weeks of testing the $20,000 ceiling, bitcoin jumped past the psychological threshold. While some reported that bitcoin crossed this level in 2017, that was based on single trades on low-liquidity exchanges. CoinDesk’s Bitcoin Price Index aggregates data from the most popular exchanges with verifiable data.

At stake

'Free Ross'
Rumor is President Trump may pardon Ross Ulbricht, the founder and administrator of the Silk Road darknet drug market, who is currently serving two consecutive life sentences plus 40 years without the possibility of parole.

In 2015, Ulbricht was sentenced for crimes related to his $183 million darknet operation, including computer fraud, money laundering and drug charges. Silk Road was an open bazaar for merchants and buyers to commerce, with thousands of drug listings at its height for anything from marijuana to heroin.

Despite the obvious criminality of such a website, Ulbricht was a first-time offender accused of non-violent crimes. Many criminal justice activists think Ulbricht’s sentence is excessive while others point to evidence of a mishandling of justice at the procedural level. Over the past five years, a strong movement – spearheaded by Ulbricht’s mom, Lyn – has formed urging clemency for the 36-year-old self-taught coder.

On its face, there is a discrepancy between Ulbricht’s punishment and what might be expected. For instance, other Silk Road admins charged with similar offenses were given sentences varying from 17 months to six and a half years. Carl Ferrer, the chief executive of the sex trafficking site, was sentenced to up to five years in prison for money laundering and prostitution charges.

It’s been said the book was thrown at Ulbricht to discourage future online misbehavior, at a time when peer-to-peer technologies were presenting themselves as potential threats to the status quo.

The Silk Road was a fixture within the popular imagination while still up, becoming the first private-routing Tor site to have name recognition, and the first substantial use case for the internet-native currency bitcoin. Then there was the Dread Pirate Roberts, the site’s mysterious operator – who steered the website with an iron fist, and even allegedly hired out hitmen to neutralize threats to his identity and the Silk Road.

While the government tied Ulbricht to this online DPR moniker and accused him of attempted murder for hire, these charges were not part of his trial. In fact, one of the charges brought by Maryland prosecutors for commission of murder was dismissed with prejudice. 

Still, in 2015, when penalties were being laid out, U.S. District Judge Katherine Forrest included these unproven allegations in her decision. (In 2016, an appellate court said these charges – which were not decided on by a jury – “significantly justified the life sentence.”)

Crypto legal mind Jake Chervinsky notes, “The government convicted Ross of certain (nonviolent) crimes, and then had him sentenced for different, unproven (violent) ones.”

As it stands, Ulbricht has exhausted his options for legal recourse through the court system. His appeals have been denied, and the U.S. Supreme Court refused to hear his case. In April, Lyn Ulbricht told me the last remaining avenue for leniency would be through a presidential commutation.

“The Eighth Amendment says no cruel or unusual punishment and this is very unusual for a first-time nonviolent offender, and it’s certainly cruel,” she said at the time. The Daily Beast, which broke the news of a potential pardon, reports there are several people close to Trump who are advocates for Ulbricht’s clemency. Trump is reportedly sympathetic to the case.

“In the beginning of the year, [Ulbricht’s] family had reached out to us for our support, and my organization and I have endorsed his full commutation, and I am hopeful that President Trump will commute his sentence in its entirety. This case has perhaps more support than I’ve seen in any case of this kind,” Weldon Angelos, a criminal justice reform activist, told The Daily Beast.

Trump "can sign a piece of paper and Ross would walk out the door,” Lyn said in April.

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