Ross Ulbricht, the incarcerated founder of the criminal darknet market Silk Road, has attracted millions of dollars worth of bids for his nonfungible token (NFT) art.
The Ross Ulbricht Genesis Collection depicts four graphite pencil drawings and one oil canvas alongside essays and poems composed by Ulbrich, 37, during his imprisonment. The collection also includes an animation created by NFT artist Levitate that features a voiceover from the Texas native about his experience in prison, in addition to five artworks from his childhood and adolescence. The auction was launched at Art Basel Miami last week on SuperRare, with bidding set to finish on Dec. 8.
In 2015, Ulbricht was convicted of conspiracy to commit money laundering, narcotics trafficking and related crimes. He was sentenced to two life sentences plus 40 years in prison. A movement to petition the courts to reduce his sentence has been picking up momentum in recent months.
While bidder “toxicbitcoinmaxi” is currently leading the auction with 666 Ether ($2.9M at current prices), DeFi and NFT collective PleasrDAO has launched a decentralized autonomous organization (DAO) that has already raised more than 1,260 ETH ($5.5M) to purchase and fractionalize the collection.
A share of proceeds from the auction will go toward supporting Ulbricht’s ongoing efforts to fight his sentence, in addition to launching a donor-advised fund “Art4Giving” that is “dedicated to relieving the suffering of the incarcerated and their families.”
“Decades of incarceration stretch out in front of me,” Ulbricht wrote. “As I face that future — my eventual old age and death in this cage — I find myself looking for meaning and purpose. Why am I here? What good can I do with the time I have left and from where I am? I hope that helping my fellow prisoners through my art is one way.”
“There is a lot we can do with the proceeds of this auction, but one idea I am committed to is to help kids travel to visit their moms and dads in prison,” he added.
PleasrDAO announced the launch of FreeRossDAO on Dec. 3, describing the organization as “an open community aimed at buying Ross Ulbricht’s NFT collection and funding the mission to #FreeRoss and fight for prison reform.”
The FreerossDAO fund was seeded by PleasrDAO with 240 Ether (roughly $1M), with PleasrDAO pledging to contribute an additional 240 ETH for every 2,400 Ether pledged. If successful, FreeRossDAO will distribute tokens representing fractionalized shares in the collection to contributors on a pro-rata basis.
“Ross Ulbricht brought to life a vision of economic freedom that introduced crypto to hundreds of thousands. His disproportionate sentence as a first-time, non-violent offender (two lifetimes plus 40 years, nearly double that of El Chapo).” PleasrDAO added.
After advertising on leading cryptocurrency forum Bitcointalk.org in March 2011, the platform expanded to host 340 different listings from a variety of vendors by June of the same year. Federal agents posed as buyers and sellers on the platform as part of their investigation into Silk Road.
By May 2013, Silk Road was hosting more than 11,000 listings, including sellers advertising unregulated pharmaceuticals, counterfeit money and art, untaxed tobacco, hacking tools, stolen goods, and other prized contraband. The platform had also banned listings for firearms. Some analysts speculated that darknet markets were quietly emerging as a leading utility for Bitcoin at the time.