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Ex-Secret Service agent pleads guilty in Silk Road case; he pocketed $820,000 in bitcoin

Bitcoin tokens

A former U.S. Secret Service agent pleaded guilty on Monday to money laundering and obstruction of justice. Above, bitcoin tokens.

(Rick Bowmer / Associated Press)

A former U.S. Secret Service agent who was part of a team investigating illegal activity on the online drug market Silk Road has pleaded guilty to money laundering and obstruction of justice, prosecutors announced Monday. 

Shaun W. Bridges, 32, of Laurel, Md., pleaded guilty Monday in federal court in San Francisco. He used his position as a special agent with the Secret Service to steal more than $820,000 worth of bitcoin digital currency from Silk Road accounts in 2013, prosecutors said.

“There is a bright line between enforcing the law and breaking it,” Assistant Atty. Gen. Leslie Caldwell said in a statement. “Law enforcement officers who cross that line not only harm their immediate victims but also betray the public trust.”

Bridges was one of two former federal law enforcement agents accused of trying to use their roles in the Silk Road investigation for personal gain. Former Drug Enforcement Administration agent Carl M. Force pleaded guilty two months ago to charges that he stole more than $200,000 worth of digital currency and tried to sell law enforcement secrets.

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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 California native, has argued he was framed by criminals who managed to hide their own identities. He has filed to appeal the conviction and sentence.

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Bridges admitted he reset passwords and PINs of various Silk Road accounts, according to the plea agreement filed Monday. Prosecutors said that enabled him to fraudulently move and steal nearly 20,000 bitcoin. 

When Bridges took the approximately 20,000 bitcoin in January 2013, the sum would have been worth about $350,000, prosecutors said. They said he moved the digital currency into an account at Mt. Gox, an online digital currency exchange based in Japan.

In March to May 2013, he liquidated the bitcoin into $820,000 and transferred the money to a personal investment account in the U.S., prosecutors said. 

“We depend on those in federal law enforcement having the highest integrity and unshakeable honor, and Mr. Bridges has demonstrated that he utterly lacks those qualities,”  U.S. Atty. Melinda Haag said in a statement.

Federal prosecutors said Bridges also admitted that he made false and misleading statements to prosecutors and investigators in connection with a San Francisco grand jury investigation and that he tried to get other government employees to tell false stories to prosecutors and investigators. 

Bridges is scheduled to be sentenced Dec. 7, and each count carries a maximum penalty of 20 years and $250,000, prosecutors said.

For more local and breaking news, follow @sarahparvini on Twitter

Times staff writer James Queally contributed to this report.

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