LE – Whose Who In Investigating SR1?

6 minute read

Posted by: Allen Hoffmann, JD

June 25, 2015

Whaddya know… a couple of days after his co-accused and former Baltimore “Marco Polo” taskforce colleague Shaun Bridges copped a plea for their abhorrent joint enterprise,  the main man of the scheme, Carl Mark Force IV has also copped a plea. As we’re all aware by now, the dirty deeds of these two basically destroyed some major investigative work completed by the taskforce in terms of certain fictitious murder for hire charges. It makes one wonder when two key investigators in such a high profile case turn out to be spectacularly corrupt, just what kind of people major LE agencies are using when they investigate DNMs, and with the SR1 litigation over and the majority of the evidentiary story told, we’re now in a position to take a look at the personalities which came together and were used by the Government to build its case.

Interagency pissing contests; FBI, DEA and HSI(?)

As it is right now, no one US agency can lay claim to investigative responsibility for ‘cybercrime’; indeed, both the DEA’s Baltimore office, which spawned such outlandish corruption perpetrated by both members of the DEA and the Secret Service, was running a parallel investigation to the FBI’s New York office investigation. The fight to catch DPR and slam Silk Road was being fought in multiple ways; both against DPR and SR itself and between the agencies who wanted to lay claim to his scalp, via a variety of means. It’s a tale of multiple agencies, and multiple investigation styles.

The Rock star and his entourage; Tarbell, FBI.

So, who is the rock star? Chris Tarbell has been described as the “Elliot Ness” of Cyberspace for his takedowns of Lulzsec and Silk Road, so unlike the HSI agent who worked his way up the chain to ultimately become Cirrus, or the burned out street undercover who was looking to make a big bust (and a lot of money), this was someone who already had a big score on the board in arresting “Sabu” of Lulzsec fame – but that came from a lucky break on a tip line. He was the guy on the scene who took Ulbricht to jail. But who is he? Let’s hear what a PR specialist at his new employer, New York’s FTI Consulting, says about his LE background;

“Mr. Tarbell honed his investigative talents with two police departments, where he worked on computer-related crimes. This experience led to a nine-year career as a Special Agent with the Federal Bureau of Investigation (the “FBI”). As a Computer Forensic Examiner with the FBI’s Global Forensic team, Mr. Tarbell spent his first four years as a Federal Agent engaged in computer forensic investigations and data collections all over the world on matters that included international terrorism, botnets, and crimes against children. In 2009, Mr. Tarbell joined the FBI’s preeminent cyber crime squad, which is located in the FBI’s New York field office. There, Mr. Tarbell was the lead investigator on a number of cutting edge cases that spanned multiple countries.”

Let me revise that… For a rock star, Tarbell was a bit of a dweeb; no UC work here, pure tech analysis and digging for the most part. But he did have an entourage; Tarbell couldn’t have made his case without AUSA Thomas Brown, who interestingly jumped ship to FTI Consulting on the same day as Tarbell, and two non agent FBI employees, Ilwhan Yum and Tom Kiernan. Yum was a tech specialist with an exceptional knowledge of BTC, and Kiernan had worked his way up in the FBI from a lowly civilian tech support guy in the mid 1990s to a computer scientist in the New York office, and had been there at least since 2009. He was on the scene helping to secure Ulbricht’s computer at the time of the arrest, and was integral as far as continuity went in terms of the evidence secured on Ulbricht’s laptop.

The up and comer who ‘flipped up’; Der-Yeghiayan, HSI/TSA

Into the mix we can also add Homeland Security Investigations through an agent who happened to be in the right place in the right time, seeing an uptick in personal use quantities of drugs coming through international mail at O’Hare.  Jared Der-Yeghiayan, the son of a US federal judge, was looking for a career making case, and he put the work in, going from SR user account holder, to commandeering the account of a SR vendor at some point after the August, 2013 arrest of 22 year old Cornelis Slomp, aka “Supertrips”, and finally, in a manner which has not yet been made public (sidebar: almost certainly because whatever tactical approach which was in use then is still in use now, as far as investigations into DNMs go), Der-Yeghiayan managed to get control of what would become a SR staff account in the name “cirrus”. In a non linear manner, he managed to ‘flip’ his way to the top. Der-Yeghiayan got on board with the New York FBI investigation after a conference call with a prosecuting attorney and Tarbell, and using the “cirrus” account, Der-Yeghiayan was pivotal in catching DPR and SR mod Peter Nash at their respective keyboards and logged in at the time of their arrests, and managed to burrow into the admin team at SR2 from day zero while he was at it. Not bad for a relative newcomer.

OG UC (and mega corrupt); Force, DEA.

Unlike ambitious Der-Yeghiayan and the rock star of the Feeb, Chris Tarbell, and his dream team, Carl Mark Force IV had worked undercover on the streets, and sought to translate it to the DNM world. He crafted the false identity of Eladio Guzman, a cartel operative based in the Dominican Republic, a supposedly hardened criminal with 20 years experience. Going by the username of “Nob” (not the vendor Nod), he sought to establish a direct line to the man behind Silk Road with a simple premise; he would contact him and seek to buy the platform from him in April of 2012, which led to ongoing communication with DPR about his fabricated criminal exploits. Not much finesse, no UC buys, straight to the point. It paid some investigative dividends – when DPR wanted to kill moderator “Flush”/“Chronicpain”, whose arrest Force had orchestrated, Force, as Nob, was the guy DPR approached to organize a hit. It’s been said that Force had been a heavy drinker and big partier back in his days as a street level UC, and that he had to pull back from this lifestyle and mindset. It seems that he was unsuccessful in doing so, because as we now know, when Force wasn’t busy investigating DPR, he was bleeding vendor accounts and extorting him out of big money and frustrating the SR investigation. It seems that Force got his Baltimore taskforce buddy and US Secret Service BTC expert in on the corruption game, but we’ll have to wait for the pleas to see whether he’ll cop to that.

What have we learned?

UC penetration from a variety of non parallel angles, which are a direct symptom of the congested, decentralized LE approach which the US so favors, were used to attack SR1. In the process, corruption flourished in the Baltimore taskforce, and two federal agents have copped utilitarian pleas to avoid embarrassing trials and to minimize time behind bars. An experienced UC who played the role of an old school crook and was dirty, a cybercrime “whiz” with a dream team behind him who couldn’t get much traction on his own, and a dude working at the airport who noted an increase in old school, postal drug imports who effectively outflanked them all… Of all the approaches to the investigation and penetration of SR, Der-Yeghiayan’s was the most traditional, working his way up the chain, and in the end, was the most successful.

Der-Yeghiayan learned what experienced LE knows, and what DNM management teams should consider very, very carefully as far as undercover operations go; persistence, flexibility to approach, and rapport building all pay big dividends. LE tends not to adapt much when it hits on something that works, and its likely that one of the above approaches, if not all three, are in use as you’ve finished reading this article.

Updated: 2015-06-25