Posted by: Allen Hoffmann, JD
May 4, 2015
Just a brief recap for those who haven’t been following since the Silk Road trial; Silk Road admin “Flush”, aka Curtis Green, gets popped receiving a kilo of fake coke from a fake dealer as part of the Silk Road investigation. He turns informant and hands over his login credentials to the Baltimore Silk Road Task force, which gives them the ability to reset passwords and withdrawal PINs – and later that day, BTC starts getting ripped out of Silk Road on a wholesale basis. The Government alleges the man responsible is Secret Service Special Agent Shaun Bridges, of the Baltimore Task force. DPR deduced that the party responsible was Flush (who was in custody), and reaches out to a guy he believes is a major trafficker, “Nob”, to murder Curtis Green. Nob, of course, is DEA Special Agent Carl Force, and so the charade murder is acted out.
What did they take?
According to the complaint, Force managed to make $776k in liquidating bitcoin during 2013 and 2014. Not bad at all for someone on $150k a year. In just a couple of months following the Silk Road thefts, Bridges managed to lay hands on $820k.
Both knew they were in trouble
As soon as each man knew he was under investigation, they were out the door of their respective agencies. (sidebar – I’ve dealt with many cops in my time. I don’t know of many who have done nothing wrong quit in response to being looked at for misconduct.)
The complaint indicates that Force sought and got a proffer agreement – the implication being that he was seeking to cut an immunity deal of some description. It begs the question who or what it was he had up his sleeve, perhaps with an intention of throwing Bridges under the bus, but it didn’t get that far, as Force denied being ‘French Maid’, despite the reasonably robust circumstantial evidence put to him.
Bridges, when put on suspension, tried to delete various Bitstamp related files from his USSS issue laptop, and had to be prevented from doing so by a supervisor who secured the laptop.
Other things of note we’ve learned
The evidence is comprehensive.
As anyone who has tangled with tax authorities will tell you, the Government investigates theft from its revenue with a kind of fervor you don’t find in other large, non violent investigations. Its never a commercial decision – its about the principle. The investigation on this has been led by the IRS, backed up by the FBI, and both the Department of Justice and Department of Homeland Security’s respective Offices of the Inspector General. The complaint is well put together, and the exhibits attached are well put together, and show a definitive pathway in terms of BTC moving between DPR and the corrupt feds’ personal accounts, as well as their financial records as re BTC holdings.
The materials strongly suggest that BTC-e does not comply with US information sharing requests.
BTC-e is mentioned in the complaint as being the intended destination of $235k being sent by Force via a bank account in Panama, after he became aware he was under investigation. Interestingly, BTC-E is not referenced in the pretrial detention motion, which instead indicates that Force’s money was being shifted via a “digital currency exchange believed to be operating out of Eastern Europe and/or the Soviet Union”, which did not respond to U.S. information requests. Little is known about BTC-e for certain, though it is believed to be based in Bulgaria and closely connected with Russian interests.
Investigators continue to use combinations of software version numbers as evidence
It was seen previously when Benthall was claimed to be the head of SR2 that investigators sought to match up software version numbers, in that case a particular browser version. In this instance, a combination of an outdated, specific variant of GnuPG and the ongoing tagging of outbound correspondence with release information was consistent across Force’s use of the Nob identity, and the ‘French Maid’ persona.
Outlook email cannot dredge up deleted emails when a warrant is served after the fact
When discussing warrants served in relation to Force’s personal Outlook email account in relation to his involvement with CoinMKT, Microsoft handed over what it had. When queried on where the rest of it was, the reply indicates that they could only give what they have, indicating that where the warrant to hand over emails comes after they’ve been sent (not an intercept request), as far as Outlook is concerned, once deleted, the emails are truly gone.
How is the defense is likely to play?
The Government’s case against former Special Agent Carl Force is, in a word, strong. The catch cry of many a corrupt officer that it was simply a case of poor evidence management or lack of appropriate record keeping simply doesn’t wash; the post offence conduct from the point of Force’s backtracking on his fabricated subpoena is looks to be an open and shut issue. The case is a little more circumstantial at this stage against former Special Agent Shaun Bridges, but still, not looking good. Tack on the movement of money on the part of both men and its likely we’ll see early pleas for both.
How did this happen?
How did these two men engage in such wholesale, felonious conduct under the noses of their colleagues and supervisors? How did they acquire such wealth in connection with a cryptocurrency, the illicit use of which they were indirectly tasked with investigating, without anyone noticing? The answer is, itself, another question, one so old it’s a latin maxim.
Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?