Former DEA agent Carl Mark Force was sentenced on October 19 in San Francisco federal court to 78 months' imprisonment. The sentence was imposed as a result of Force's previous guilty plea to charges of money laundering, obstruction of justice and extortion arising out of his investigation into Silk Road.
Force was a corrupt DEA agent who played a central role in the government's assault on the Silk Road website. Silk Road was a dark web site where a variety of illicit goods, primarily recreational drugs, were sold anonymously using bitcoin. Prosecutors allege that Silk Road operated for more than two years until it was shut down in October 2013 and generated more than $214 million in revenue. Silk Road was at one time the largest marketplace on the dark web for illegal drugs.
Force was not the only corrupt member of the federal task force that investigated and ultimately took down Silk Road. In August 2015, former US Secret Service agent Shaun Bridges pleaded guilty to stealing over $800,000 worth of bitcoins during the course of the Silk Road investigation. Bridges' sentencing is scheduled for December.
The government's target in the Silk Road investigation was 31-year-old Ross Ulbricht aka Dread Pirate Roberts. He was convicted after a four-week trial and sentenced to life imprisonment without the possibility of parole. USDJ Katherine Forrest made her displeasure with Ulbricht clear during his sentencing hearing. "The stated purpose (of Silk Road) was to be beyond the law. In the world you created over time, democracy didn't exist. You were captain of the ship, the dread Pirate Roberts. You made your own laws."
Forrest further stated, "Silk Road's birth and presence asserted that its creator was better than the laws of this country. This is deeply troubling, terribly misguided, and very dangerous."
The government waited until the trial's conclusion before fully revealing the corruption of the two agents. Defense attorney Joshua Dratel was repeatedly rebuffed by Forrest when attempting to get facts about the corrupt agents into the record.
"The government's considerable efforts at keeping this monumental scandal from being aired at Ross Ulbricht's trial is itself scandalous," said Dratel in a statement. "It is clear from this (Bridges') Complaint that fundamentally the government's investigation of Mr. Ulbricht lacked any integrity, and was wholly and fatally compromised from the inside."
The defense was aware of potential corruption involving agents from the time of the trial's inception. Defense counsel Dratel made multiple references to the head of Silk Road paying for counter-intelligence information from law enforcement officials. He argued that the Silk Road boss was not in fact Ulbricht, but was instead using the leaked information to plan an exit from the Silk Road and frame Ulbricht. The operators of the Silk Road "had been alerted the walls were closing in," Dratel said in his opening statement at trial.