The Corruption in the Silk Road Case

Two corrupt federal agents with unfettered access to the Silk Road website “sought deliberately to undermine the integrity of the ongoing…investigation,” yet their existence was barred from being discussed at trial. Ross’s jury never knew that all the evidence from the website had been tainted.[1]

Corruption Hidden from Ross’s Jury

In April 2015, just seven weeks after Ross’s trial concluded, it was revealed that two federal agents at the core of the Silk Road investigation—DEA agent Carl Force and Secret Service agent Shaun Bridges—were charged with corruption directly related to their involvement in Silk Road.[2] It was later disclosed that Bridges was also working for the NSA during this time.[3] The two agents had been under investigation for nearly a year but Ross’s prosecutors fought to keep their existence under seal until after the jury had convicted Ross.[4]

Bridges’s specialty was in “computer forensics and anonymity software derived from Tor.” He was the “subject matter expert in Bitcoin” and he assisted Force “in his illegal, unauthorized infiltration and manipulation of the Silk Road website.”[5][6]

Carl Mark Force

Corrupt Agents with Unfettered Access

The agents went after the bitcoins on Silk Road and were admittedly involved in numerous dubious plots, including one where they tricked Curtis Green, a senior Silk Road admin, into accepting a controlled delivery of drugs. When Green gave them his address, the two agents arrested him.[7] During his interrogation, Green told them how to exploit Silk Road’s system, change passwords and take over accounts. Bridges then used Green’s account to hijack and empty the accounts of top Silk Road vendors.[8]

Shaun Bridges

During a closed pre-trial hearing, the prosecution lied to Ross’s judge about what they were capable of, but it is now known that, with Green’s administrator privileges, Force and Bridges had unfettered access to the website, including to passwords and PIN numbers. This means that, without the government’s knowledge, they could:

  • usurp control of any account, including that of DPR, without DPR knowing or losing access, and act as DPR.[9]
  • change anything in the Silk Road database, including forum posts and chat messages.[10]
In a 2018 public interview, Green revealed how his Silk Road chat logs had been manipulated, presumably by Bridges or Force.
“I went through all my old posts from me, and I didn’t write that…It looked totally foreign to me…It didn’t ring a bell…And it was all very detrimental, it made me look bad.” [11]

In the same interview, Green also discussed the anonymous murder-for-hire chat logs that were the basis for the unprosecuted, false—and now dismissed—allegations that the prosecution and the media used to smear Ross.

“When I saw the [murder-for-hire] transcripts,” Green said, they were “[in line with Force’s] narrative, exactly what he portrayed. So was it there or did they put it there?” [12]
Excerpt of Curtis Green’s interview,
August 8, 2018

Although a few of the agents’ aliases were revealed (DeathFromAbove, French Maid), it remains unclear how many accounts Force and Bridges created, took over, or impersonated. In fact, they even had the ability to take over DPR’s account and act as DPR without the administrator’s knowledge.

Full Extent of the Corruption is Unknown

The full nature of Force and Bridges’s misconduct has yet to be disclosed, as the government quickly reached plea agreements with both agents, resolving their cases without any additional disclosure to the public.[13]

Forbes, Mar 31, 2015

The agents—who pled guilty and were sent to prison—were never required to decrypt their encrypted Silk Road chat logs, nor were they required to turn over their laptops, email accounts, and other digital information that might reveal the depth of their involvement.  Assistant U.S Attorney Kathryn Haun stated during Bridges’s sentencing that “there are a lot of unanswered questions.”[14]

In 2016, over a year after Ross’s trial ended, essential evidence was discovered by the defense proving that someone within the government, with high-level access to Silk Road, had tampered with the digital information used to convict Ross. Were Bridges and Force involved? Was it a third corrupt agent? Was it someone else entirely?

To this day, it is unknown to what extent Force and Bridges compromised the Silk Road website and the evidence used against Ross.

The prosecution of Force shed “light on his capacity for fraud, deception, forgery, abuse of his government authority and access–including predatory and retaliatory conduct and false accusations against innocent–and inventing complex, layered cover stories to conceal his misdeeds.” – Joshua Dratel, Criminal Defense Attorney. [15]

In 2015, Force was sentenced to six and a half years and Bridges to six years.[16][17] However, Bridges got two years stacked on top of his sentence when he tried to move and launder 1,606 stolen bitcoins that his prosecutor had failed to find.[18]

Corrupt Agents Released from Prison

In October 2020, Carl Mark Force was released from prison after having served 5.5 years. Just a year later, in October 2021, Shaun Bridges was released after having served 6 years. Meanwhile, Ross is in his 11th year of serving a double life plus 40 year-sentence without parole.
Screenshot from the BOP Inmate Locator
Screenshot from the BOP Inmate Locator

References