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Silk Road founder appeals conviction a week after life sentence

Attorneys for the mastermind of the illegal-drugs site have filed an appeal. It's another episode in one of the strangest, darkest tales of Web culture run amok.

Ross Ulbricht, the convicted founder of online illegal-drugs marketplace Silk Road, is challenging his conviction a week after receiving a sentence of life in prison without the possibility of parole.

Silk Road founder Ross Ulbricht was sentenced to life in prison for operating the illegal-drugs site. Ross Ulbricht/LinkedIn

As anticipated, attorneys for the 31-year-old San Francisco man filed a notice of appeal to the Second Circuit Court of Appeals in New York on Thursday. In a Manhattan courtroom last Friday, Ulbricht -- who went by the moniker "Dread Pirate Roberts" -- received a life sentence for operating Silk Road. The virtual bazaar, founded in 2011, was a haven for buyers and sellers of illegal narcotics, allowing them to conduct business without easy detection by authorities.

Before his sentencing, Ulbricht pleaded with US District Court Judge Katherine Forrest to not send him away for life, to "leave a small light at the end of the tunnel and a chance to redeem myself in the free world before I meet my maker."

But Forrest roundly rejected Ulbrict's plea. He was also ordered to pay more than $183 million in restitution, an amount that prosecutors believed Silk Road made in sales. The site functioned on a hidden area of the Internet, or the Dark Web, called the the Tor network and only accepted payment in the form of bitcoins, the often hard-to-trace digital currency.

The appeal is another episode in one of the strangest, darkest tales of Web culture run amok. Federal prosecutors said Ulbricht conceived and oversaw Silk Road's operations as it grew into a $1.2 billion drug empire. The site was known by users as an Amazon of sorts for illegal narcotics, with buyer ratings and money-back guarantees. Prosecutors and the FBI also alleged that Ulbricht was a "kingpin" who hired people over the Internet to kill those trying to extort him for cash.

Ulbricht's attorneys will likely raise on appeal that two former federal agents investigating Silk Road were charged with corruption, money laundering and other offenses for allegedly stealing bitcoins during the probe.

In February, a federal jury in Manhattan found Ulbricht guilty of all seven charges related to computer-hacking conspiracy, narcotics-trafficking conspiracy and money laundering. Ulbricht was arrested in 2013.