Ex-DEA agent pleads guilty to stealing bitcoins during Silk Road investigation

A former federal agent has pleaded guilty to charges that he stole more than $200,000 worth of digital currency and tried to sell law enforcement secrets to the mastermind behind the online drug market Silk Road, prosecutors announced Wednesday. 

Carl M. Force, 46, of Baltimore pleaded guilty to extortion, money laundering and obstruction of justice in federal court in San Francisco.

“While investigating the Silk Road, former [Drug Enforcement Administration] Agent Carl Force crossed the line from enforcing the law to breaking it,” Assistant Atty. Gen. Leslie Caldwell said in a statement. “Seduced by the perceived anonymity of virtual currency and the Dark Web, Force used invented online personas and encrypted messaging to fraudulently obtain bitcoin worth hundreds of thousands of dollars from the government and investigative targets alike."

Force was one of two former federal law enforcement agents accused of trying to use his role in the Silk Road investigation for personal gain. Shaun W. Bridges, a 32-year-old former Secret Service agent, also has been accused of stealing hundreds of thousands of dollars' worth of bitcoins while investigating the website in 2013. 

Bridges has also reached a plea deal with federal prosecutors, according to the Associated Press.

Federal prosecutors have said that Silk Road, which first surfaced in 2010, was a hidden online marketplace that served as a host for millions of dollars' worth of drug deals, giving dealers access to customers they would not have been able to reach on the street.  

Ross William Ulbricht, who went by the online handle "Dread Pirate Roberts," was sentenced in May to life in prison after he was convicted of running the site and allowing more than $180 million worth of drug deals to take place there. Ulbricht, a 31-year-old California native, has contended he was framed by other criminals who managed to hide their own identities.

Force was the lead undercover agent who communicated with Ulbricht, according to a 95-page criminal complaint unsealed this year. Force, who went by the online alias "Nob," tried to sell Ulbricht information about the government investigation into Silk Road in 2013, prosecutors said Wednesday.

According to the complaint, Force demanded Ulbricht pay him $250,000 in bitcoins to withhold certain information from the DEA. On another occasion, the complaint said, Force created a separate online alias and asked Ulbricht for $100,000 in exchange for inside information on the DEA investigation.

Force also had a contract with 20th Century Fox, valued at $240,000, to help produce a film about the government's investigation of Silk Road. He failed to obtain prior approval from the DEA, prosecutors said Wednesday.

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