Silk Road investigators charged with stealing bitcoin

Two former U.S. agents face charges of wire fraud and money laundering

Two former U.S. government agents face charges related to stealing hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of bitcoin while assisting with an investigation of the Silk Road underground online marketplace, with one accused of using a fake online persona to extort money from operators of the site.

Facing charges of wire fraud and money laundering are Carl Force, 46, of Baltimore, a former special agent with the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency, and Shaun Bridges, 32, of Laurel, Maryland, a former special agent with the U.S. Secret Service. Both served on the Baltimore Silk Road Task Force, which investigated illegal activity on the Silk Road website, the Department of Justice said Monday in a press release.

Force served as an undercover agent with the task force and worked to establish contact with a main target of the investigation, Ross Ulbricht, also known as Dread Pirate Roberts, who was convicted in February of criminal charges related to running Silk Road. In addition to wire fraud and money laundering, Force is charged with theft of government property and conflict of interest.

A complaint unsealed Monday alleges that Force created several online personas and engaged in a range of illegal activities as a way to make money. He used the fake online personas to engage in complex bitcoin transactions to steal both from the government and the targets of the investigation, the complaint alleged.

Force allegedly used a fake persona to ask Ulbricht for a US$250,000 payment in exchange for not passing information to government investigators, according to the criminal complaint. He allegedly used another persona to sell Ulbricht information about the government investigation in exchange for about $100,000 in bitcoin.

Force also stole a "sizeable amount" of bitcoin that Ulbricht sent to him in his official undercover capacity, according to the complaint. Force, working at the CoinMKT digital currency exchange at the same time he was with the DEA, also directed the company to freeze a customer's account, worth about $297,000, then seized those funds and transferred them to his personal account, the complaint alleged.

Bridges served as a computer forensics expert with the task force. He allegedly diverted to his personal account more than $800,000 in digital currency that he gained control of during the Silk Road investigation. Bridges placed the assets into an account at Mt. Gox, the now-defunct digital currency exchange in Japan, according to the complaint.

He then allegedly wired funds into a personal investment account in the U.S. just days before he sought a $2.1 million seizure warrant for Mt. Gox's accounts.

Both men were scheduled to appear in court Monday.

Grant Gross covers technology and telecom policy in the U.S. government for The IDG News Service. Follow Grant on Twitter at GrantGross. Grant's email address is grant_gross@idg.com.

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Tags U.S. Department of JusticeInternet-based applications and servicesRoss UlbrichtShaun BridgeslegalU.S. Secret Servicegovernmentsilk roadinternetCarl ForcecybercrimeU.S. Drug Enforcement Agency

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