Silk Road: Undercover agent admits stealing Bitcoin

Bitcoin Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Carl Force stole more than $700,000 in Bitcoin while investigating the dark web marketplace

A former US undercover agent involved in an investigation into the dark web marketplace Silk Road has admitted a series of crimes.

Carl Force, 46, faces up to 20 years in prison after pleading guilty to charges of extortion, money-laundering and obstruction of justice.

He stole more than $700,000 (£448,000) in the digital currency Bitcoin.

Force also secretly solicited payment from the marketplace's operator for information about the US investigation.

During the course of the investigation, the former US Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) agent posed as a drug dealer with connections to hit-men using the alias Nob.

He was given the task of communicating with Ross Ulbricht, the man who was subsequently jailed for life for running Silk Road, prosecutors said.

'French maid'

According to a government document, Force convinced Ulbricht, who went by the alias Dread Pirate Roberts, to pay him $50,000 in Bitcoin by pretending he had information about the investigation in August 2013.

While Force reported the discussion to the DEA, he falsely claimed no payment had been made, while diverting the funds to a personal account, prosecutors said.

Force, also without the authorities' knowledge, used another online moniker French Maid and offered Ulbricht information on the investigation for about $98,000 in Bitcoin in September that year.

He appeared in a San Francisco federal court on Wednesday wearing an orange jumpsuit and leg shackles.

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption The agent operated under various fake identities, using them to both investigate and solicit payment from the Silk Road operator

Among the crimes he confessed to, Force said he had agreed to a contract with 21st Century Fox last year to help make a film about the Silk Road investigation, without the permission of his supervisors. That deal called for him to be paid up to $240,000.

The firm has not responded to a request for comment.

Force also invested in a company that brokered Bitcoin and served as its chief compliance officer while still with the DEA.

During his time with the company, Force used his position to seize $300,000 from a customer and transfer it to his private account, authorities said.

'Stellar career'

US district judge Richard Seeborg accepted Force's guilty plea on Wednesday and scheduled his sentencing for October.

Speaking outside court, Force's lawyer Ivan Bates said: "He had a stellar, 15-year career with the DEA except for this one blip." Inside the court, Bates said his client suffered from anxiety and depression.

Silk Road operated for more than two years until it was shut down in October 2013, generating more than $214m in sales of drugs and other illicit goods using Bitcoin, prosecutors said.

Ulbricht was himself sentenced in May after a federal jury in Manhattan found him guilty of several charges, including distributing drugs using the internet.

Plea agreement

Prosecutors have also reached a plea agreement with Shaun Bridges, a former Secret Service agent who was charged along with Force in March with stealing Bitcoin during the investigation. He is scheduled to enter his plea in August.

A lawyer for Ulbricht has said those charges removed "any question about the corruption that pervaded the investigation of Silk Road".

Force and Bridges belonged to the same Baltimore-based federal task force that investigated Silk Road.

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