Agent pleads guilty to stealing bitcoin during Silk Road probe

Agent pleads guilty to stealing bitcoin during Silk Road probe
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A second law enforcement official pleaded guilty Monday evening to stealing hundreds of thousands of dollars in bitcoin during the investigation targeting the operator of the Silk Road, a large online drug market on the dark Web.

Former Secret Service special agent Shaun Bridges admitted to fraudulently gaining access to a Silk Road administrator account and transferring 20,000 bitcoin to his control. In a plea agreement, he also admitted to obstructing the investigation into the nefarious website’s leader and to making false statements about his own activity. 

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Officials with the Justice Department issued scathing statements condemning Bridges and claimed that the department’s ability to trace the money back to one of its own was an example of the “financial expertise” of other agents. 

“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. Attorney Melinda Haag said. “We appreciate the hard work of our federal partners that went into bringing Mr. Bridges to justice.”

Bridges will be sentenced in December. 

Bridges and another former agent, Carl Force, were charged back in March. Force pleaded guilty in July and will face sentencing in October. 

The charges are tied back to the Justice Department investigation that eventually led to the life sentence of Ross Ulbricht, who was convicted of operating the website under the name “Dread Pirate Roberts.”

Bridges worked in a Baltimore unit between 2012 and 2014, specializing in forensic computer investigations to track down the Silk Road operator. 

In 2013, he used a Silk Road administrator account he fraudulently secured to reset numerous passwords and transfer the bitcoin. The currency was worth about $350,000 at the time, but its value increased to about $820,000 once he changed the virtual currency to U.S. dollars. 

Ulbricht’s lawyers had asked for a new trial due to the agents’ misconduct, but it was denied. The judge said the new information would not have been helpful to the case, since the two “rogue agents” did not participate in the New York investigation, which eventually led to the conviction. 

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