DEA agent gets prison time for stealing bitcoins during Silk Road probe

A pile of bitcoins minted by software engineer Mike Caldwell are shown in his shop in Sandy, Utah, on April 26, 2013.

A pile of bitcoins minted by software engineer Mike Caldwell are shown in his shop in Sandy, Utah, on April 26, 2013.

(George Frey / Getty Images)

He was sent undercover into the Internet’s dark underbelly to flush out “Dread Pirate Roberts,” the leader of the notorious Silk Road drug market.

But Drug Enforcement Administration Agent Carl M. Force ended up playing both sides, tempted by the supposedly untraceable digital currency bitcoin. He conned his target, trafficker Ross Ulbricht, as well as the agency that he worked for.

But the gambit ultimately failed.

Earlier this year, Force, 46, of Baltimore, pleaded guilty to extortion, money laundering and obstruction of justice. On Monday, a federal judge in San Francisco ordered the 15-year DEA veteran to spend more than six years in prison and pay $340,000 in restitution.


In a statement, the U.S. attorney’s office said Force was the lead undercover agent in communication with Ulbricht when the DEA went after the Silk Road founder between 2012 and 2014. During that time, Force used the anonymity of the Internet to convince Ulbricht that he was someone named Carla Sophia, who went by the handle “French Maid” online.

The now defunct Silk Road was a hidden online marketplace that served as host for more than $180 million worth of drug deals starting in 2010. Ulbricht, 29, was convicted for running Silk Road and sentenced to life in prison in May.

As “French Maid,” and a second pseudonym, “Nob,” which was known to the DEA, Force persuaded Ulbricht to pay him in bitcoins for information about a fictional corrupt government employee. But instead of revealing these payments to the DEA to help build a case, Force converted the bitcoins to cash and then secretly deposited the proceeds in personal bank accounts.

He made more than $100,000 in bitcoins through the scheme, prosecutors said.

Later, capitalizing on his role in the Ulbricht probe, Force convinced 20th Century Fox to pay him $240,000 to help consult on the studio’s film version of the Silk Road investigation -- without getting the DEA’s permission.

Force later illegally used his role in a bitcoin currency exchange company to seize a client’s account and steal the bitcoins. When federal investigators began closing in on Force, he lied and obstructed their investigation into him and Ulbricht, prosecutors said.

Force is the second law enforcement officer to be convicted of stealing bitcoins during the Silk Road case. Former Secret Service agent Shaun W. Bridges, 32, admitted this summer to stealing 20,000 bitcoins and liquidating it into $820,000 through a Japanese currency exchange before depositing it into his personal accounts. He’s scheduled to be sentenced in December and faces up to 20 years in prison and $250,000 in fines.


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