Two former federal agents have been charged with fraud and money laundering while they were working on a task force devoted to bringing down infamous online drug bazaar Silk Road, and the charges paint a picture of a 15-year DEA veteran going rogue in such an over-the-top fashion that it's hard to believe this isn't a plotline from CSI: Cyber.
Described in the affidavit from a fellow officer, the alleged corruption and abuse of power by agent Carl Mark Force IV are so extensive its almost impressive. Of course, as none of the charges have been proven, take this whole over-the-top narrative with a grain of salt (or, I guess, a grain of cocaine, if you really want to get into the spirit of things).
According to the complaint, Force used several fake personas to talk to the Dread Pirate Roberts without telling his DEA coworkers, including an account called "French Maid." The complaint says that as "French Maid," Force convinced DPR to pay him $100,000 for information about the ongoing criminal investigation into the Silk Road.
Now, Force was authorized to trick DPR, but only using the persona "Nob." As Nob, Force convinced DPR he was a drug smuggler as part of the official investigation into Silk Road. (And it was Force, as Nob, who arranged the fake murder-for-hire of another Silk Road vendor by convincing DPR that he had hitman connections.)
"Nob" told DPR that there was a fictional corrupt DOJ agent named "Kevin" who was supposedly feeding him information about the investigation. DPR paid "Nob" roughly $90,000 in two Bitcoin payments for the fake information. At that point, the Bitcoin that Force received as an undercover DEA agent legally belonged to the government. Instead, he deposited most of it into personal accounts.
It doesn't end there. Force then allegedly convinced DPR that "Kevin" wanted more money, and asked for 525 Bitcoin. The complaint suggests he hid the fake "Kevin" extortion from the government, using blockchain evidence to trace the Bitcoin from DPR to Force. (Literally the only thing acceptable about this entire scam is that "Kevin" is a VERY good fake cop name, so tiny little props for that.)
Oh, and let's talk about that hitman thing. So, while he pretended to be the nefarious Nob, Force facilitated a (fake) hit on a vendor who supposedly stole money from the Silk Road. But the person who actually stole the money was the other agent charged in this complaint, Shuan Bridges! A tangled web.
With the new influx of digital currency, the renegade federal agent allegedly invested in a Bitcoin exchange, CoinMKT, and used his DEA contacts to run unauthorized background checks for the company, then "allowed himself to be listed as CoinMKT's anti-money laundering and/or compliance officer," according to the complaint. He then stole nearly $300,000 from a CoinMKT client by convincing CoinMKT that the client was doing something shady.
So a federal agent tasked with taking down an elaborate Bitcoin-fueled digital criminal enterprise basically concocted his own Bitcoin-fueled digital criminal enterprise side hustle, if the affidavit is correct.
But wait, there's more. To launder all the stolen money, Force allegedly tried to tricked Venmo into unfreezing his account—which was frozen due to suspicious activity—by sending them a subpoena, using his supervisor's stamp, according to the complaint. He asked Venmo not to call the DEA to confirm, which aroused suspicions. (Venmo didn't fall for it.) Force was able to launder money in other ways, and actually ended up using the stolen money to start a Bitcoin speculation company.
Apart from being a wild story, what does it all mean for Silk Road trial? Quite possibly nothing; since the undercover agent's remarkably corrupt work as part of the Baltimore taskforce was separate from the New York investigation into Silk Road that eventually ended with a conviction, it's not clear if Ulbricht will be able to directly point to the extravagant criminal activity as an undercover agent as evidence that the investigations into Silk Road were compromised in his bid for a retrial. But Ulbricht's defense attorney Joshua Dratel is already suggesting this accusation of corruption is an indictment of the whole investigation. Dratel posted a scathing statement on the complaint today:
The government failed to disclose previously much of what is in the Complaint, including that two federal law enforcement agents involved in the Silk Road investigation were corrupt. It is clear from this Complaint that fundamentally the government’s investigation of Mr. Ulbricht lacked any integrity, and was wholly and fatally compromised from the inside.
Whether or not it ends up helping Ulbricht, this is one juicy reminder that the line between cop and criminal is often blurred to the point of nonexistence.
You can read the whole berserk affidavit here:
Top image: screenshot from complaint evidence