Sholom Rubashkin, whose 27-year sentence President Donald Trump commuted on Wednesday, is a corrupt criminal who deserves punishment for his misdeeds. The Rubashkin case was nevertheless a criminal justice scandal, and Donald Trump was absolutely right to commute his draconian and constitutionally defective sentence. The only shame here is that Trump will almost certainly decline to grant clemency to other prisoners whose cases are just as egregious.The same appears to be the case with Silk Road founder Ross Ulbricht.
Rubashkin’s crimes are well-documented. As the chief executive of a large kosher meatpacking plant in Iowa, Rubashkin allegedly hired hundreds of undocumented immigrants, including some minors. He also swindled his lenders out of millions. In 2008, federal agents conducted a massive raid on his slaughterhouse. Prosecutors charged him with violating child labor and immigration laws but eventually dropped those counts and focused exclusively on his financial deceit. A jury ultimately convicted Rubashkin of money laundering and bank fraud. Prosecutors recommended a sentence of 25 years, a stringent punishment for a nonviolent, first-time offender.
But U.S. District Judge Linda R. Reade decided that the government’s proposed sentence was insufficiently harsh. She sentenced Rubashkin to 27 years behind bars, more time than the chief executives of Tyco and Enron faced. This fact alone is extremely troubling. Reade, it seemed, decided to factor in Rubashkin’s alleged immigration and child labor crimes even though he was not convicted of any immigration offenses. In fact, a jury acquitted Rubashkin of child labor charges in a separate state trial. Reade, who routinely hands out ruthlessly long prison terms, appeared to be punishing Rubashkin for crimes not proved at trial, a clear violation of his constitutional rights.
He was convicted of
running a black market Bitcoin-using exchange. The judge in the case sentenced him to two life sentences.
The extremely harsh sentence suggests that he was also sentenced for alleged attempts to hire hit men to go after government cooperating Silk Road employees, though he was never put on trial for those allegations.
It also turns out that some government investigators were dirty. Drug Enforcement agent, Carl Mark Force IV, and Secret Service / NSA agent, Shaun Bridges, both were Silk Road investigators. Both used pseudonyms to pilfer bitcoins from the site and attempted to extort money from Ulbricht. In addition, they both had high-level admin access to the site, with the ability to access accounts, manipulate data and change passwords.
Ulbricht’s defense team has now revealed that on November 18, 2013, someone logged into accounts on the Silk Road forum associated with “Dread Pirate Roberts” (DPR) while Ulbricht was already in custody following his arrest on October 1. This fact was documented in a discovery letter by his legal team.
None of this information was allowed in at trial and some was not even revealed to the defense team before trial.
Libertarians would certainly object on principle that Ulbricht should have even been charged for running the black market/free market exchange.
But I believe the young and naive Ulbricht, he was 29 when arrested, bought into the anonymity hype of some libertarians that Bitcoin could protect your privacy and that running a drug exchange was somehow a noble libertarian effort.
But by its very nature Bitcoin is an extremely trackable exchange instrument. (See: "It Took Me Two Clicks To Trace Ross Ulbricht To Silk Road")
And as Murray Rothbard put it, when discussing libertarian/agorist theory and the underground promoted by Samuel Konkin (my bold):
If the black market should develop, then the successful entrepreneurs are not going to be agoric theoreticians...but successful entrepreneurs period. What do they need with Konkin and his group? I suggest, nothing at all. There is a hint in the NLM that libertarians would a priori make better entrepreneurs than anyone else because they are more trustworthy and more rational, but this piece of nonsense was exploded by hard experience a long time ago. Neither do the budding black marketeers need Mr. Konkin and his colleagues to cheer them on and free them of guilt. Again, experience has shown that they do fine on their own, and that urging them on to black market activities is like exhorting ducks to swim...In other words, if you want to advance liberty, it makes little sense to be operating a black market website just as it makes little sense to be selling drugs from a street corner to advance liberty. If the government snares you, you are going to pay dearly---and that is not going to help your liberty.
As much as I love the market, I refuse to believe that when I engage in a regular market transaction (e.g., buying a sandwich) or a black market activity (e.g., driving at 60 miles per hour) I advance one iota nearer the libertarian revolution. The black market is not going to be the path to liberty, and libertarian theoreticians and activists have no function in that market...
Historically, classical liberal political parties have accomplished far more for human liberty than any black markets.
Ulbricht understood some about libertarianism and some about Bitcoin and some about government but not enough.
Ulbricht made a very big mistake but the sentence was unjustified even if one buys into the punish drug sellers theme. It is the Rubashkin case on steroids.
What happened to Ulbricht should be a lesson to all. shall I say, adventurous libertarians. Don't do stupid stuff when challenging the state.
Officials recently transferred Ulbricht to a maximum security prison in Florence, Colorado. The prison, of course, houses some of the most violent offenders. This news surfaced after a court denied his recent appeal. He is appealing his sentence to the Supreme Court.
I'm sure that Trump has been a disappointment to most "Libertarians for Trump," some have told me so. But it would seem that there would be little downside in Trump commuting Ulbricht's sentence. If he can commute Rubashkin's sentence, why not Ulbricht's?
There is no reason for Trump to listen to me. I didn't support him, but "Libertarians for Trump" is a different story. They should make some noise about getting Ulbricht out of prison, then maybe at least one good thing will come out of the Trump presidency.