Ross Ulbricht, the convicted administrator of the infamous Silk Road Marketplace, was almost arrested by law enforcement authorities thanks to a water leak in 2011.
According to American Kingpin, a new book by Nick Bilton documenting the rise and fall of Silk Road, Ulbricht started cultivating hallucinogenic mushrooms in early 2011. His master plan was to grow and harvest the mushrooms, then advertise the drug as the first listing on the Silk Road Marketplace. He hoped that the profits generated from the sale of the substance would earn him tens of thousands of dollars, but most importantly, it would kickstart the website. After the site has launched, Ulbricht planned to switch the form of the income from selling drugs to earning commissions from other narcotics dealers vending their illicit products on the Silk Road Marketplace.
For growing the mushrooms, the Silk Road founder rented a shabby apartment on the outskirts of Austin, Texas for $450 per month in a location he knew only. He only took his girlfriend, Julia, there once, however. Ulbricht insisted that the woman should wear a blindfold during her round trip journey. According to Bilton’s book, the convicted criminal grew enough mushrooms that would fill two large rubbish bags. Ulbricht tested the potency of the substance, and was ready to harvest the mushrooms and list them on the Silk Road Marketplace, however, he almost got busted doing so.
According to Bilton, Austin was in a middle of a heat wave in that part of the year, and somehow there was a water leak in the apartment housing where Ulbricht grew the mushrooms. When the landlord went in the apartment to check the flood, he was surprised when he found the Silk Road administrator’s “drug laboratory”. Irate, the landlord, called Ross on the phone to tell him that his next call would be to the police. As soon as Ulbricht learned the news, he jumped in his truck and sped across the town to retrieve the mushrooms and clean the whole apartment, destroying all evidence that would point to his drug business. “Ross tore through the space… and thankfully screeched away just in time,” Bilton writes in his book. When Ulbricht returned home to Julia on that evening, he was “so shaken it took Julia hours to calm him”. According to the book, the thought of what would have happened if law enforcement authorities arrested the man put him “on the edge of a panic attack”.
While this near-disaster would have been enough to discourage most wannabe drug dealers from continuing their activities, Ulbricht’s fear quickly turned into determination to launch the Silk Road Marketplace, sell the mushrooms and create an era where Silk Road dominated the darknet in the sale of illegal products and services. After some time passed from the unfortunate incident with the water leak and the landlord’s visit, Ulbricht launched the Silk Road Marketplace in late January. He advertised his site on a website called “Shroomery” at 4:20pm local time on January 27, claiming that he was a random visitor who stumbled across the site encouraging others to check it out. The marketing plan of Ross Ulbricht worked as days later, the first customers began to arrive to the Silk Road site.
On May 29, 2015, Ross Ulbricht was given a life sentence in prison. The administrator of the darknet marketplace was handed five sentences: one for 20 years, one for 15 years, one for five years, and two for life. All are to be served concurrently with no chance of parole. Additionally to the man’s prison sentence, Ulbricht was also ordered to pay a restitution of more than $183 million, what the prosecution had estimated to be the total income from the sale of illegal drugs and counterfeit IDs conducted through the Silk Road Marketplace. When law enforcement authorities raided the home of the defendant, they had confiscated a laptop where they found the bitcoin wallet of the suspect. The restitution fee was paid from the actual balance of the BTC Ulbricht had. In 2015, US Marshals auctioned the bitcoins of the Silk Road admin for a discounted price.