The man convicted of creating and running the Silk Road black market drug website begged the federal judge who will sentence him next week to "leave me my old age" in a contrite plea for leniency filed Friday.

"Silk Road was supposed to be about giving people the freedom to make their own choices, to pursue their own happiness, however they individually saw fit," Ross Ulbricht wrote in his letter to U.S. District Judge Katherine Forrest. "What it turned into was, in part, a convenient way for people to satisfy their drug addictions."

Ulbricht, 31, a Texas-born Californian, was convicted in February of masterminding Silk Road, which used an encrypted section of the Internet and digital bitcoin currency to assure anonymity for an alleged $1 billion in sales of drugs and other contraband from 2011 to 2013.

He faces a mandatory minimum of 20 years in prison, and could receive up to life. Prosecutors contend that six drug deaths can be traced to Silk Road, but the defense in sentencing papers disputes that and contends the website actually reduced violence in the drug trade by moving it online from the street.

At trial, his defense was that he started Silk Road as an economic experiment, but turned it over to others and was not the mysterious "Dread Pirate Roberts" figure who ran it during its heyday.

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He made none of those claims in his three-page letter to Forrest, calling his actions a "terrible mistake" that had "squandered" the opportunities his middle-class upbringing and two advanced degrees gave him.

"I've had my youth, and I know you must take away my middle years," he told the judge, "but please leave me my old age."

Ulbricht is scheduled to be sentenced on May 29.