WASHINGTON — The federal government became owners of one of the biggest troves of Bitcoin, thanks to seizing millions of dollars in the digital currency from criminals associated with the online black market Silk Road.
Two federal agents who led the probe allegedly decided they wanted some of the money for themselves, according to a new federal court documents.
The two now-former agents from the Drug Enforcement Administration and the U.S. Secret Service are charged with wire fraud, money laundering and other offenses for allegedly stealing Bitcoin during the federal investigation of Silk Road, an underground illicit black market federal prosecutors shut down last year.
The charges in a criminal complaint filed in San Francisco federal court paints a picture of corrupt federal agents trying to enrich themselves as they tried to bring down one of the Internet’s top cybercriminals.
The charges against the agents could end up causing complications for the government’s case against Ross Ulbricht, also known as “Dread Pirate Roberts”, the Silk Road founder. Ulbricht was found guilty last year of aiding drug trafficking with his site. He is awaiting sentencing. As a result of the case against Ulbricht and others, the federal government seized bitcoin that it said at the time was valued at over $33 million.
The agents are: Carl Force, 46 years old, of Baltimore, a special agent with the Drug Enforcement Administration, and Shaun Bridges, 32, of Laurel, Maryland, a special agent with the U.S. Secret Service.
Force was a lead agent in the case and was the main investigator communicating with Ulbricht. Force is charged with wire fraud, theft of government property, money laundering and conflict of interest.
Bridges was the computer forensics expert on the case. He is charged with wire fraud and money laundering.
Force allegedly set up fake online personas and tried to extort money from Ulbricht, including once trying to get $250,000 from him in exchange for not providing information to federal investigators, the criminal complaint says.
Using the online persona “French Maid,” Force did succeed in getting $100,000 in Bitcoin from Ulbricht, which Force deposited in his personal accounts, the federal complaint says. He later used a series of Bitcoin and personal U.S. dollar transactions, including a $235,000 wire transfer to an account in Panama, to launder the stolen money, prosecutors allege in the complaint.
According to prosecutors, Force also used his position as an executive at a digital currency exchange called CoinMKT, in which he was an investor, to seize accounts of customers. He transferred $297,000 in illegally-seized digital currency to his personal accounts, prosecutors allege in the criminal complaint.
Bridges allegedly stole $820,000, using a series of wire transfers to move Bitcoin that earlier had been stolen from Silk Road in early 2013 and deposited in a Japanese bitcoin exchange Mt. Gox, according to prosecutors. Two days later, Bridges signed the government’s warrant to seize millions of dollars in bitcoin from Mt. Gox accounts.
Later, when he learned the FBI was investigating suspicious activity in the Silk Road investigation, transferred $250,000 from his personal account to one he shared with someone else, according to the complaint.