There Might Still Be Crooked Cops from the Silk Road Investigation

In the last month, two crooked federal agents embedded inside the Silk Road investigation were sentenced to prison, but they may not have been alone.

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Dec 14 2015, 9:59pm

Crooked agents were a centerpiece of Ross Ulbricht's defense. Image: AP

In the last month, two crooked federal agents embedded inside the Silk Road investigation were sentenced to prison, but they may not have been alone.

Former DEA agent Carl Mark Force was sentenced to six and a half years, and former Secret Service agent Shaun Bridges was sentenced to five years and eleven months. Their crimes were numerous: they stole bitcoin, compromised investigations, and Bridges even set up a cooperating witness for a theft that the agent himself committed, leading to Silk Road creator the Dread Pirate Roberts issuing a hit on the witness. But Force and Bridges probably weren't the only corrupt cops inside the Silk Road Task Force.

During Bridges's sentencing, prosecutors implies that there was more misconduct that they just hadn't had enough evidence to nail him on—missing bitcoins, odd investigative priorities, suspicious conversations with other law enforcement. In their view, it seems, they were only able to charge Shaun Bridges with crimes that were low-hanging fruit—and in fact, both Bridges and Force were themselves low-hanging fruit, having repeatedly bungled things in very obvious ways. After all, Force had once sold information to DPR while signing off as "Carl."

Four big question marks still remain. Not all—if any—of these people have actually committed crimes, and at least one allegation of corruption might be entirely fabricated. Regardless, these are the loose ends of the Silk Road: suspicious actors whom we may never know more about.

1. Unnamed IRS Agent

During Shaun Bridges's sentencing, a prosecutor mentioned a text message conversation between Bridges and an unnamed IRS agent. The two went back and forth boasting about "how much money they were making on the market." (She did not elaborate, but based on the context, the prosecutor seemed to be referring to the digital currency market.)

Rather than saying that the conversation did not pertain to any crimes, she hedged that they did not know whether or not the conversation was related to criminal activity.

The unnamed IRS agent was not charged in this case.

2. "mr. wonderful"

During the Silk Road trial, Ross Ulbricht's defense attorney kept trying to cross-examine the government's lead witness—Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) agent Jared Der-Yeghiayan—about an undercover agent who went by the handle "mr. wonderful" on the Silk Road. Prosecutors kept blocking the line of inquiry with an aggressive barrage of objections. Shortly after asking about "mr. wonderful," the defense asked about the user "deathfromabove"—who we later learned was Carl Mark Force. We now know that much of what prosecutors sought to block during the trial pertained to the Force/Bridges investigation. But mr. wonderful himself ultimately never made an appearance in the Force/Bridges prosecution.

It may be that the public will never know the truth

This is what we know about mr. wonderful, based on testimony given at the trial:

  • mr. wonderful is a HSI agent working out of Baltimore—where both Force and Bridges were located.
  • mr. wonderful flipped Silk Road moderator "cirrus," and originally took over her account. For unknown reasons, the account was taken away from mr. wonderful and given to Der-Yeghiayan, a HSI agent working out of Chicago.
  • We don't know whether mr. wonderful did anything criminal. No HSI agent has been charged in a corruption case following the Silk Road investigation.
  • We don't even know who mr. wonderful is, because he was not asked to testify in the New York trial, despite playing what appears to be a key part in the investigation.

3. "alpacino"

In sealed documents informing the judge and defense about the sealed grand jury proceedings around Force and Bridges, Ulbricht's prosecutors mentioned the user name "alpacino" in connection with the investigation. But when the criminal complaint against Force and Bridges is ultimately unveiled, "alpacino" is nowhere to be found.

From the Silk Road docket. Letter from prosecutors dated November 21, 2014. Unsealed March 31, 2015

It could be that alpacino was a pseudonym of Force's that the government simply couldn't pin on him. But it's also possible that alpacino was another corrupt law enforcement agent that they simply haven't caught.

4. "Diamond" / "cwt"

Variety Jones, the Silk Road architect that may have just been extradited out of Thailand and arrested by the FBI, posted online in September that a corrupt FBI agent that went under the moniker Diamond, cwt, and Chrysippus was hunting him.

According to Variety Jones, the agent had a wallet of 300,000 bitcoins once belonging to Ross Ulbricht. He wanted Variety Jones to help him crack the password to the wallet, and threatened to kidnap and torture Ross Ulbricht's sister in order to get that password.

Jones suggested that the moniker "cwt" was connected to the agent's real identity.

One day, using a fucking work computer, I believe, Force sent a message to Dread Pirate Roberts, and signed off on it...

Carl

Little bells went off in my head. I could see Diamond, as Chrysippus, doing the exact same thing when he was all excited and pissed off I wasn't taking him seriously. No doubt in my mind now. Chrysippus was going to figure in who Diamond was, and so will --cwt. Diamond, I think, was just a quick response the situation, and he insisted on using it exclusively now. Food for thought, for sure.

It's important to remember that Variety Jones is not a reliable source and that he has an obvious motive making these kinds of accusations. Plausible allegations of law enforcement corruption, even if untrue, could poison a prosecution against him, given the recent conviction of Carl Force and Shaun Bridges.

For anyone closely following the Silk Road investigation, "cwt" will ring a bell. One of the central figures in the Silk Road investigation is Christopher W. Tarbell. He did not testify at trial despite leading the team that arrested Ross Ulbricht. He also wrote a hotly contested affidavit regarding how the government located and seized the Silk Road servers. According to defense attorney Joshua Horowitz—in an analysis corroborated by computer scientist Nicholas Weaver—the account in the Tarbell Declaration is not technologically possible, meaning the actual story of the Silk Road search and seizure is still a mystery.

But this story about Diamond/Chrysippus/cwt could just as easily be an inflammatory lie engineered to feed off the controversy around the Tarbell Declaration. (Christopher Tarbell did not respond to a request for comment.)

As the criminal case against Variety Jones moves forward, we'll be hearing more about cwt. But as for the other maybe-corrupt law enforcement in the Silk Road investigation? Since the US Attorney's Office for the Northern District of California couldn't root them out, it may be that the public will never know the truth.

Clarification: Although a jury in New York convicted Ross Ulbricht on all counts, presumably agreeing with the prosecution that Ulbricht was the Dread Pirate Roberts, the criminal charges against him in New York did not include the fake murders-for-hire. To clarify this, a reference to Ross Ulbricht being the same Dread Pirate Roberts that contracted a murder for hire has been removed from the first paragraph.