The Corruption

In April of 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.[1]

It was later disclosed that Bridges was working for the NSA during this time.[2] 

Theft and extortion

The agents also went after the bitcoins on Silk Road. According to Force, they tricked Curtis Green, a senior Silk Road admin, into accepting a controlled delivery of cocaine. When Green gave them his address, the agents arrested him.[3] During his interrogation, Green revealed 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.[4]

According to Force, DPR was duped into believing that Green was behind the theft. DPR supposedly asked Force, who was posing as a cartel member, to track Green down and get the money back. Force agreed and pretended to catch and kill Green. No bitcoins were recovered.[5]

The government claimed the agents extorted DPR on other occasions as well, using threats of exposure and death. In one instance, they said Force and Bridges used the alias “DeathFromAbove” to send a message to DPR to warn him they would expose his identity if he didn’t pay them.[6]

Carl Mark Force
Shaun Bridges
Another time, under the name “French Maid,” the agents allegedly tried to sell “information concerning the government’s investigation into the Silk Road” to DPR. Force, apparently out of habit, signed one message with his first name “Carl.” He later tried to cover this, saying his name was “Carla Sophia,” a Silk Road user with “many girlfriends and boyfriends on the site.”[7] These and other schemes netted the pair at least 23,984 bitcoins, although it remains unknown how many remain hidden.[8][9]

Bridges’s specialty was in “computer forensics and anonymity software derived from Tor.” He was “the Task Force’s subject matter expert in Bitcoin.” So, Force was “assisted in his illegal, unauthorized infiltration and manipulation of the Silk Road website by a computer forensics agent with expertise in anonymity and Bitcoin.”
– Dratel arguing for a new trial.[10]

The cover-up

Serrin Turner
Once AUSA Turner had secured Ross’s conviction and no longer needed to hide Force and Bridges from Ross’s jury, the government revealed the two agents had been under investigation for nearly a year.[11]

However, the “full nature of Force and Bridges’s misconduct has yet to be disclosed, as the government quickly reached plea agreements with both, resolving their cases without any additional disclosure to the public.”[12] As they admitted at Bridges’s sentencing, “there are a lot of unanswered questions.”[13]

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 persons– and inventing complex, layered cover stories to conceal his misdeeds.”
– Joshua Dratel arguing for a new trial once Force and Bridges’s corruption was revealed.[14]

Trying to flee

Even after their corruption was exposed, the agents did not stop. At one point, Bridges attempted to have a Secret Service colleague lie to his grand jury.[15] He also married another witness, so she could invoke spousal immunity and not be forced to testify.[16] When he didn’t beat the grand jury, he tried to flee and was arrested in his home with “passport…documents pertaining to offshore companies based in Belize, Mauritius, and Nevis, and a bulletproof vest.”[17]

“Since people almost never flee without some access to money overseas, Bridges’s plans, and the foreign corporations, begs the question whether we know the full range of his and Force’s illegal activity in connection with the Silk Road site. The government has clearly been more interested in suppressing such disclosure than getting to the bottom of it.”
– Joshua Dratel

Shaun Bridges captured by security cameras.
Photo: ArsTechnica
Ultimately, both Force and Bridges pleaded guilty and asked for mercy from their judges. Force was sentenced to six and a half years while Bridges got six years.[18][19] Later, Bridges got two years stacked on top of his original six years when, two years into his sentence, he tried to launder 1,606 of his stolen bitcoins that the government had failed to find.[20]

To this day, it is unknown to what extent Force and Bridges compromised the Silk Road website and the evidence used against Ross. During a closed pre-trial hearing, Turner lied to Ross’s judge about what they were capable of, but we now know that they had virtually unfettered access to the site.

With Green’s “administrator” privileges, Force and Bridges “could have reset the PIN on DPR’s account and usurped control of it,” even “without DPR losing access.” They could have “changed anything in the Silk Road database, including message text in the Forum or Market,” all without “the government’s knowledge of what they did.”
– Joshua Dratel arguing for a new trial based on newly discovered evidence.[21][22]

References