Former agents who investigated Silk Road charged with bitcoin theft

24 May, 2015

When the United States shut down the infamous Silk Road, it made headlines around the world. Now, headlines are being made once again with news that a DEA agent and Secret Service agent who led the investigation have been charged with stealing funds from the underground site.

Reports indicate that Former DEA agent Carl Force of Baltimore allegedly utilized a number of online aliases in order to extort bitcoin from Ross Ulbricht, the Silk Road operator known as Dread Pirate Roberts. Force allegedly stored the funds, worth hundreds of thousands of dollars, in offshore accounts. He has been charged with theft, wire fraud, money laundering, and conflict of interest. Also charged by prosecutors was Shaun Bridges of Laurel, Maryland. The former Secret Service agent has been charged with money laundering and wire fraud.

Background behind the fraud allegations

Silk Road, the black market that came to prominence for trading in illegal drugs, computer hacking software, and counterfeit IDs, was shut down by the FBI on October 2, 2013. While bitcoin has since been accepted in the mainstream and used to pay for transactions from a multitude of legitimate retailers, at the height of the Silk Road's reign in the underground world, it was the only payment method accepted by the online black market. Among the reasons that buyers and sellers using the Silk Road were required to use bitcoin was the fact that it is so difficult to trace.

Ulbricht was recently convicted by a federal jury in New York on charges of drug conspiracy. Since then, prosecutors have stated that in addition to his official undercover identity force also created a number of other online aliases that were completely unauthorized for the explicit purposes of conduct bitcoin transactions. Force is alleged to have demanded that Ulbricht pay half a million dollars in bitcoin in one transaction in exchange for not disclosing information to the federal government. In another transaction, Force allegedly posed as a woman and offered to sell the Silk Road operator information regarding the federal investigation in exchange for $100,000 in bitcoin. Force deposited the funds directly into a personal account, according to investigators. Force, who had been with the DEA for 15 years, has since resigned and is currently in jail.

Bridges, a computer forensics who was also involved in the investigation, is charged with stealing more than $800,000 worth of bitcoin that he placed in a Mt. Gox account. The funds were then allegedly wired to a personal investment account in the United States via a series of transfers. Bridges, who had been with the Secret Service 2009, later resigned and surrendered to authorities. According to his attorney, Bridges plans to fight the charges and maintains his innocence.

While Bridges was released under pretrial supervision, the government presented evidence indicating that Force should be considered a flight risk due to the fact that he was found with a go back, including a 9mm handgun, at the time of his arrest. Prosecutors also expressed concern regarding Force's ability to create fake identities.

One month prior to his departure from the Drug Enforcement Agency, Force launched a bitcoin speculation company. During his role in the investigation, Force was also found to have moonlighted for a digital currency exchange company, using his DEA position to assist the firm with conducting criminal background checks. He also froze almost $300,00 in a customer account and then allegedly transferred some of those funds to his own personal account, later making investments and even paying off his mortgage.

I feel like adding a smart-ass remark here but I don't know what to say. This whole Silk Road case raises questions. Cops may have a license to steal but did these two cowboys get too smart and greedy even for their own kind? Obviously they weren't smart enough, but it does raise questions as to how many of these crooked law enforcement agents have actually gotten away with it?