Ross Ulbricht is no longer the only one charged with crimes related to the Silk Road after two investigators were arrested for their conduct during the probe into the online drug marketplace. Two former federal agents have been charged with stealing bitcoins they were supposed to turn over while working undercover for the government.
A U.S. Department of Justice complaint unsealed Monday accuses former Secret Service agent Shaun Bridges and former Drug Enforcement Administration agent Carl Force of wire fraud and money laundering. Force is also being charged with theft of government property and conflict of interest in his investigation of the Silk Road, with the Justice Department alleging that he sold information about the DEA investigation to the very man they were investigating.
Force, 46, was a member of the Baltimore DEA task force charged with identifying the Dread Pirate Roberts, the online identity used by the founder and administrator of the Silk Road. The site, accessible only with the Tor anonymity browser plug-in, operated from February 2011 to October 2013, when it was shut down by a multi-agency investigation. Texas native Ulbricht was arrested as the Dread Pirate Roberts and convicted on seven charges in February.
As an undercover agent, Force worked closely with Ulbricht, helping run the Silk Road until he “without authority, developed additional online personas and engaged in a broad range of illegal activities calculated to bring him personal financial gain,” the Justice Department said in a statement Monday.
Force also is accused of stealing bitcoins, the digital currency used for Silk Road drug transactions, from other targets on the site.
When federal agents arrested Ulbricht in October 2013 they seized the personal laptop he was using while logged into the Silk Road as Dread Pirate Roberts. That laptop also contained a deeply personal journal he used to keep track of both his innermost thoughts and day-to-day business dealings. Ulbricht described at one point paying an individual known as “French Maid” for the information that Mark Karpeles, the CEO of the bitcoin exchange Mt. Gox, had suggested to the government that Ulbricht might be behind the DPR identity.
The indictment unsealed Monday states:
“Specifically, in a text document recovered from Ulbricht’s computer titled ‘log,’ there is an entry dated September 13, 2013, in which Ulbricht wrote: ‘French Maid claims that mark karpeles has given my name to [investigators]. I offered him $100K for the name.’ Days later, Ulbricht wrote, ‘I paid French Maid $100K for the name given to [investigators] by karpeles.’ Our investigation has revealed that there is probable cause to believe that FORCE was ‘French Maid,’ a source that Ulbricht paid for inside information.”
Force was earning approximately $150,000 annually as a DEA agent but, the indictment alleged, he “paid off his mortgage, a government thrift saving plan loan, and wrote several very large checks for tens of thousands of dollars” while his wife worked as a housewife.
Bridges, the Secret Service agent, is accused of taking $800,000 he received as payment from the Silk Road and placing it into a private Mt. Gox account when he should have turned it over to the government. Bridges was also the agent who sent Ulbricht the “proof of death” photos used to convince the Silk Road boss that a hit he’s accused of ordering was completed. Ulbricht has never been charged in any of the five murders he was accused of carrying out.
The pair texted back and forth through the course of the investigation, particularly about the price of bitcoin, the government said. Four of the charges Ulbricht has been convicted of carry potential life sentences. He is scheduled to be sentenced by Judge Katherine B. Forrest in New York on May 15.