Agents In Silk Road Case Indicted For Fraud, Money Laundering
LINDA WERTHEIMER, HOST:
Earlier this week, federal authorities arrested federal authorities. In an unexpected turn of events, two agents involved in busting and convicting the head of Silk Road, an underground website known for drug trafficking, have now been indicted themselves. They are charged with wire fraud, money laundering and falsifying government documents. Here to discuss this story is NPR's technology reporter Aarti Shahani. Hi, Aarti.
AARTI SHAHANI, BYLINE: Hi.
WERTHEIMER: So we are talking about two officers who helped the investigation that shut down Silk Road, the site where people bought and sold illegal drugs, and they've now been arrested.
SHAHANI: Yeah, and they didn't just help the investigation, but led it. There were multiple teams around the U.S. working on this case, OK? The two men, a DEA agent named Carl Force and this former Secret Service agent named Shaun Bridges, they were in Baltimore. Bridges is a computer forensics expert. Force was the lead undercover agent in charge of communicating with the mastermind of the Silk Road site, who's known as this tag the Dread Pirate Roberts. These men were supposed to help gain his trust, to get incriminating evidence, and according to the criminal complaint, the officers ended up stealing money, using aliases to extort more and communicating with the Dread Pirate outside of their official capacities.
WERTHEIMER: How much money are we talking about?
SHAHANI: A lot of money in the form of Bitcoin, a digital currency used online. As part of the investigation, Special Agent Force would ask for and receive Bitcoin from the Dread Pirate, but he allegedly failed to tell his bosses about transactions worth hundreds of thousands of dollars. According to the complaint, Force was moonlighting big time. He allegedly put money into his own bank account and then sold intel about the federal investigation to his criminal target. He even got a job with one of the Bitcoin exchanges. That's kind of like a bank, but for Bitcoin. And then in that job he used his power to illegally freeze a customer's account and transfer their Bitcoin over to him. And then Bridges, the other officer, he allegedly took over $800,000 in Bitcoin for himself.
WERTHEIMER: Now, a federal court in New York used the work of these officers to convict a man as the Silk Road mastermind. So will it matter if these cops are convicted of criminal behavior while they were involved in the investigation?
SHAHANI: Well, according to prosecutors, it doesn't matter in the least. They're saying look, separate teams around the country were working on Silk Road. You had Baltimore, where the officers worked; New York, which led the prosecution against a 31-year-old name Ross Ulbricht, who was convicted as the Dread Pirate ultimately; and San Francisco where they started investigating the officers and filed the criminal case earlier this week. The government says the case against the officers doesn't materially aid Ulbricht in any way, and on the contrary this new evidence that he paid federal agents for counterintelligence is just further proof he's guilty.
WERTHEIMER: I would imagine that his lawyers don't see it that way.
SHAHANI: (Laughter) No, they don't see it that way at all. I spoke with his defense attorney, who's been arguing since the very beginning hey, my client was framed. This entire case was a set up. His theory got mocked during the trial like, hey, are little elves framing Ross Ulbricht? But now the elves could be government agents, so the defense team is, of course, going to appeal the conviction.
WERTHEIMER: NPR's Aarti Shahani joining us from San Francisco. Aarti, thank you so much.
SHAHANI: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.