Ross Ulbricht, the 29-year-old alleged mastermind behind the now-defunct online black market Silk Road has been indicted on charges related to computer hacking, drugs and money laundering, federal prosecutors revealed on 4th February.
Notably, prosecutors found that Ulbricht engaged in “continuing criminal enterprise,” a charge typically reserved for mafia members and high-profile gangsters, and sometimes referred to as “the kingpin statute”.
The charge adds 20 years to Ulbricht’s minimum sentence, and carries a potential life sentence.
Ulbricht faces a maximum life sentence for the crimes relating to his involvement with Silk Road, a largely illegal marketplace that generated an estimated $1.2bn in annual sales, if convicted. His minimum charges carry a combined 30-year prison sentence.
The announcement means that a grand jury has deemed that sufficient probable cause has been established to take action against Ulbricht, who was arrested in October on charges of possessing and distributing controlled substances, conspiring to commit computer hacking offenses and money laundering offenses.
Now that the indictment against Ulbricht has been returned, an arraignment can take place. At this event, Ulbricht will be read his charges, advised of his rights and will enter a plea of guilty or not guilty. If Ulbricht pleads not guilty, a trial date will be selected as well.
Speaking to Forbes, Ulbricht’s defense attorney Joshua Dratel indicated that Ulbricht plans to enter a “not guilty” plea:
“Ross will be pleading not guilty at the arraignment. The Indictment was expected and does not contain any new factual allegations. We look forward to beginning the discovery process and preparing Ross’s defense.”
Recent events further indicated a not guilty verdict was likely, as Ulbricht is contesting the government’s attempt to sell his 144,000 bitcoins that were seized along with Silk Road.
The development is only the most recent event in the ongoing saga that is Silk Road’s demise. Just last week, Bitcoin Foundation vice chairman Charlie Shrem was arrested for his alleged criminal association with the online marketplace in an event that is still shaking the industry.
For a complete overview of Silk Road, view our complete event timeline below:
CoinDesk is continuing to monitor this developing story.