The craziest Bitcoin saga in history just got a whole lot crazier.
On Monday, the Justice Department charged Carl Mark Force IV, a former DEA agent with 15 years of service at the agency, and Shaun Bridges, 32, with committing numerous instances of fraud while playing lead roles in the investigation into Silk Road, the infamous illicit marketplace that sold drugs, guns, and other goods on the so-called "darknet."
Together the two stand accused of stealing approximately $1 million worth of Bitcoin.
The complaint contains some incredible allegations, including that Force attempted to use his status at the DEA to force payment transfer service Venmo and Bitcoin exchange Bitstamp to help hide his tracks. He also stands accused of siphoning off Bitcoins from the investigation that were supposed to be deposited into official government accounts, and extorting the man convicted of running Silk Road for thousands.
But perhaps the most insane bit comes in a passage, buried deep in the complaint, about an incident in which the pair worked to fake a Silk Road employee's death while Bridges stole thousands of Bitcoin from under Silk Road's nose.
Some background: in 2013, Silk Road suffered a series of sizable thefts. Ulbricht (who in February was convicted of being Silk Road's leader, "Dread Pirate Roberts (DPR)") thought an employee of Silk Road, Curtis Clark Green, was responsible for stealing Bitcoin from the site's coffers, and allegedly commissioned a hit on him. The person he contacted to arrange the murder, a Silk Road user named "Nob," had portrayed himself as a drug dealer with access to paid assassins. Ulbricht paid Nob $80,000 in exchange for carrying out the hit.
"Nob" was, in fact, Force. According to the complaint, Force and Bridges faked Green's death—using doctored "proof of death" photographs—and sent the "evidence" to Ulbricht.
That part was actually okay by the government, which initially charged Ulbricht with murder for hire.
But the complaint goes on to allege that while Force and Bridges were playing the parts of hitmen, Bridges was also stealing thousands of dollars worth of Bitcoin from the unsuspecting Ulbricht — including ones Ulbricht believed Green had stolen.
In the complaint, we see a user account called "Number13" successfully deflecting attention from Ulbricht's suspicions.
"Whats [sic] going on… I really need that money back. What has happened to all my BC? " Number13 allegedly messaged Ulbricht. "Within the past day someone withdrawled [sic] all my bc from my account without my permission. The fact they must have had a pin really confuses me and makes me think it was something on your end."
Ulbricht replied: "Your account is under investigation I'm afraid."
Number13, a bit later said: "I don't know what any of that other crap in my history is. Look at my history, I am a buyer not a seller. What is going on man?"
Ulbricht replied: "You're all set, sorry for the trouble."
The complaint alleges that Bridges, "in consultation with Force," was controlling Number13 during the earliest stages of the investigation.
Soon after the alleged theft, Bridges asked Force, who was the lead agent responsible for communicating with DPR, what to do next, although the complaint does not make clear whether Force knew the full extent of Bridges' unauthorized activity.
"Need your help with [Dread Pirate Roberts] if you can," Bridges texted Force. "I am trying to transfer out our USSS Bitcoins and they have not shown up in over 30 hours after being withdrawlaed [sic]. Can you hit up DPR and say one of your workers or financial guys bitcoins are not showing up? I am going to get my butt kicked if this money is missing. After 30 hours I am getting really concerned. Our one [under cover] account is '[omitted name]' Can you use your raport [sic] and help me out? I did the transfer yesterday morning."
The government alleges Bridges wound up stealing $820,000 from Silk Road. He deposited this in Mt. Gox — a Bitcoin exchange he was also investigating at the time. He then allegedly used the stolen Bitcoin to set up an investment fund called "Quantum International Investments, LLC."
Several months after the fake hit, Force attempted to extort Ulbricht for $250,000 by saying he knew about the attempt. Using the alias "Death from Above" he sent a series of messages to Ulbricht, including the one below, which reads:
"Dread Pirate Roberts. I know what you had something to do with Curtis' disappearance and death. Just wanted to let you know that I'm coming for you. Tuque. You are a dead man. Don't think you can allude me. De Oppresso Liber."
Ulbricht was not convinced, and refused to pay the money in that case.
But in September of 2013, Force managed to convince Ulbricht to pay him $100,000 for information about the case, this time using the alias "French Maid."
It is at this point that Force may have gotten on the radar of his supervisors.
On Aug. 26, 2013 Force allegedly wrote to Ulbricht: "I have received important information that you need to know asap. Please provide me with your public key for PGP. Carl."
Four hours later, "French Maid" wrote a message with the subject line, "Whoops!" stating, "I am sorry about that. My name is Carla Sophia and I have many boyfriends and girlfriends on the market place. DPR will want to hear what I have to say ;) xoxoxo."
“Based on the fact FORCE fraudulently told DPR via the use of interstate wires that he was ‘Carla Sophia,’ and that this fact was material, and given that on that basis DPR paid 770 bitcoins to ‘French Maid’ for information, and that FORCE’s accounts received 770 bitcoins from DPR during the same September 2013 timeframe, there is probable cause to believe that FORCE committed wire fraud,” the complaint states.
The government ended up dropping the murder-for-hire charges against Ulbricht without explanation.
Bridges surrendered to authorities Monday, and Force was arrested on Friday.
Rob covers business, economics and the environment for Fusion. He previously worked at Business Insider. He grew up in Chicago.