A former Secret Service agent who stole $820,000 worth of bitcoin from the Silk Road online black market while investigating it pleaded guilty in federal court in San Francisco today to two felony charges.
Shaun Bridges, 32, of Laurel, Md., pleaded guilty before U.S. District Judge Richard Seeborg to one count of money laundering of the funds he stole and one count of obstructing justice in a federal probe of his theft.
Bridges will be sentenced by Seeborg on Dec. 7. Each count carries a possible maximum sentence of 20 years in prison.
Bridges is one of two former federal agents convicted of corruption during the investigation of Silk Road and its founder, Ross Ulbricht.
The other is former U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration agent Carl Force, 46, of Baltimore. He pleaded guilty before Seeborg on July 2 to charges of extortion, money laundering and obstruction of justice and will be sentenced on Oct. 19.
Silk Road, operated by Ulbricht between 2011 and 2013, sold illegal drugs, false identification, computer hacking tools and money laundering services. It was described by the FBI as “the most sophisticated and extensive criminal marketplace on the Internet.” Buyers purchased items with Bitcoin virtual currency.
Ulbricht, 31, of San Francisco, who used the online name Dread Pirate Roberts, was arrested while using his laptop in the Glen Park branch of the San Francisco Public Library on Oct. 1, 2013.
He was convicted in federal court in New York this year of seven felonies, including running a continuing criminal enterprise and selling drugs, and was sentenced to life in prison.
Bridges and Force were assigned to the investigation in a separate case now pending in federal court in Baltimore, in which Ulbricht is charged with conspiring to distribute cocaine and attempting to arrange the murder-for-hire of an employee he believed to be a thief.
According to a criminal complaint filed against Force and Bridges and other court documents, the suspected employee, unbeknownst to Ulbricht, was arrested by the two agents on Jan. 17, 2013, and was cooperating with authorities.
Bridges admitted in a written plea agreement filed today that he used information obtained from the cooperator to reset passwords on Silk Road vendor accounts and siphon 20,000 bitcoins into his account at Mt. Gox, a digital currency exchange based in Japan, on Jan. 25 and 26, 2013.
Bridges admitted that when he converted the funds to U.S. currency and placed them in an investment account between March and May 2013, they were worth a total of $820,000.
He acknowledged in the agreement that he obstructed justice by impeding the full use of the cooperator’s information and by:
“… creating an additional incentive for Ulbricht to attempt to hire someone to kill a cooperator whom Ulbricht suspected of committing thefts I had in fact committed.”
Bridges said he also obstructed justice by lying to agents of the FBI, Department of Justice Inspector General’s Office and Internal Revenue Service during a 2014 investigation of his actions.
U.S. Attorney Melinda Haag, who stepped down from her job Monday after five years in the post, said in a statement:
“Mr. Bridges has now admitted that he brazenly stole $820,000 worth of digital currency while working as a U.S. Secret Service special agent, a move that completely violated the public’s trust. … We depend on those in federal law enforcement having the highest integrity and unshakeable honor, and Mr. Bridges has demonstrated that he utterly lacks those qualities.”