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After Ross Ulbricht’s trial and the filing of his post-trial motions, it was revealed that two federal agents at the core of the Silk Road investigation in Baltimore — DEA agent Carl Mark Force and Secret Service Special Agent Shaun Bridges — were charged for corruption and offenses directly relating to the investigation of the Silk Road website and the case. Force was the lead undercover agent for DHS Baltimore for two years. In addition, he played the single biggest role in the most damning accusations against Ulbricht: allegedly paying for murder-for-hire. These federal agents allegedly gained high-level access to administrative functions of the Silk Road from the informant Curtis Green, known as Flush.
From January 2013 on, these agents had access to administrative platforms and the power to:
- Commandeer accounts;
- Change Admin passwords;
- Change PIN numbers and other aspects of the site.
The codebase for the Silk Road site, PHP myadmin, provided in discovery, reveals that an administrator with this level of access could reset the PIN on DPR’s account and gain control of it. With PHP myadmin access, either agent could re-set passwords and change anything in the Silk Road database, including message text in the Forum or Market messages. There were multiple PHP myadmin accounts, so they could have had access to DPR’s account without DPR losing access.
It appears that, as a computer forensics expert, Bridges, and even Force, had a high level of technical sophistication. It is feasible that, given their alleged level of access, they could have exploited vulnerabilities in the site to gain access to other administrative accounts, or possibly even the Dread Pirate Roberts account.
With such access, these agents had the means to manipulate logs, chats, private messages, keys, posts, account information, bank accounts. They also conceivably had the motive to alter data in order cover their own actions and direct attention elsewhere.
To this day it is unknown to what extent Force and Bridges compromised the Silk Road website. At the 12/14/14 pretrial conference (previously sealed), the government could not state for certain what level of access Force possessed. This raises questions about what remains unknown. In addition, the government:
- Can’t produce or confirm the full range of communications and/or relationship between Force and Bridges with DPR or anyone else involved in the Silk Road site (via Silk Road Forum, private messaging, Tor chat, Pidgin chat or any system).
- Is not certain how many aliases Force employed. (Ex: The prosecution didn’t know that Death From Above was a Force alias until the defense informed them at trial).
In addition to the corruption, the defense asserts that the government violated Ross’ due process right to a fair trial and deprived the jury of essential facts.
- The prosecution aggressively moved to prevent at trial any reference to the corruption, or to any evidence favorable to Ross.
- The defense was prevented from investigating the corruption.
- The defense was prevented from using other evidence from discovery not related to the corruption, with the sealed information used as justification.
- The government did not disclose until after the trial the charges against Shaun Bridges, despite the fact that he was the computer forensics expert on the Baltimore investigation.
- The government insisted the charges of corruption must be kept sealed because knowledge of it would compromise the investigation. Yet, the agents already knew they were under investigation and had already been interviewed by law enforcement! Consequently, the only apparent reason to keep it secret was to deprive Ross of “the use of the information, and to deny him Due Process, his Sixth Amendment rights to Compulsory Process, effective assistance of counsel and, ultimately, a fair trial.”
- When the defense requested that trial be delayed until after the investigation was completed, prosecutors refused, invoking “the people’s right to a speedy trial.”
- The prosecution prevented the defense from introducing evidence, and struck testimony, regarding Mark Karpeles as a possible suspect.
Despite the prosecution’s snide remarks in summation that “[t]here were no little elves that put all of that evidence on the defendant’s computer,” they were of course well aware of the potential for all kinds of mischief. Or as the defense states in its reply: “Yet, as it turns out – and which AUSA Turner knew all along – there were indeed two “little elves” – law enforcement agents investigating the Silk Road website – operating secretly, illegally, corruptly, and brazenly even inside the Silk Road website itself.” Yet the extent and in some respects the nature of Force’s misconduct – as well as Bridge’s participation altogether – was hidden by the government from the defense until well after trial.
In response to the prosecution’s protestations that the New York investigation was separate from Baltimore’s, the defense states that, on the contrary, the record establishes they were “coordinated and combined, each sharing information generated by the other, in a joint effort …” It has respectfully submitted that the Court should conduct an evidentiary hearing to resolve any question about this.
While the prosecution argues that the corruption isn’t relevant to New York, they provided several exhibits pre-trial (later redacted) that referred to Force in his various internet persona (Nob, alpacino, frenchmaid, Death from Above). Obviously at that time they considered Force and his work very relevant.
It begs the question that, if the defense’s theory is implausible and immaterial as the prosecution asserts, why did they aggressively block it from trial along with other evidence the defense attempted to introduce? What is the government afraid will come out? Why wasn’t the jury allowed to hear all the evidence?
In the wake of the revelations regarding the corrupt investigation and the fact that these agents allegedly gained access in January, 2013, it is apparent that issues raised by the defense at trial were relevant, including:
- The 2013 payment by DPR to a law enforcement agent for information about the investigation;
- The ramping up of the investigation of Ulbricht in mid-2013, soon after that paid information began flowing to that agent;
- The 2013 journal that begins in March, 2013, after the corruption allegedly ripened. (Before 2013 there was a total of one journal page in 2010, one page in 2011, and a statement in 2012, “I’m going to start a journal.” It is only starting in mid-2013 that detailed writing suddenly appears.)
Is this the tip of the iceberg? Still unknown are the contents of the still-sealed paragraph in the Force Complaint. In addition, the Complaint notes that it “does not include certain additional facts known to me and the government’s investigation continues.”
The defense concludes: “The complete scope of what former SA’s Force and Bridges were able to accomplish with the illicit access they gained to the Silk Road web site, and its impact on this case, has yet to be determined.”
Corrupt agents are a scandal. Yet perhaps more scandalous, and threatening to us all, is the preclusion of evidence and violation of Due Process by the government. The defense concludes its reply: “…government’s true objectives in precluding the information and evidence regarding former SA’s Force and Bridges… was simply to deprive Mr. Ulbricht of a defense at trial.”