The lead agent tasked with investigating the Silk Road drug-dealing website has pleaded guilty to laundering hundreds of thousands of dollars from the site, tipping off its owner about his investigation, and entering into a $240,000 (£154,000, €217,000) film contract with 20th Century Fox Film Studios.
DEA agent Carl Mark Force, 46, served for two years as the lead agent in charge of investigating Silk Road and communicating with its creator and owner Ross Ulbricht, 31, who was found guilty in February and sentenced to life in prison in May.
Force used his official undercover name – Nob, the leader of a Mexican drug cartel interested in buying Silk Road – as well as two more he had created without permission.
According to his plea, Force offered fake driving licences to Ulbricht and information on the investigation into Silk Road in exchange for 925 bitcoins, then worth approximately $100,000. Using a new identity called French Maid, Force says he then received a further $100,000 in bitcoin from Ulbricht in return for more information from his investigation. The money was transferred into a new personal bank account set up by Force.
By early 2014, Force had invested $110,000 of bitcoin into CoinMKT, a digital currency exchange, and was acting as its chief compliance officer – something he did without DEA approval. In February that year, Force was alerted to potential fraud in an account holding bitcoins worth $337,000. He froze the account, transferred $300,000 into his own bank, then doctored reports of the incident to show only $37,000 had been seized.
Finally, and perhaps most bizarrely, Force admitted to entering into a $240,000 contract with 20th Century Fox Film Studios for a film about the investigation into Silk Road; again, this was done without DEA approval.
Crossing the line from enforcing the law to breaking it
Assistant attorney general Leslie R. Caldwell said Force had "crossed the line from enforcing the law to breaking it," adding Force, who worked as Nob and French Maid from a laptop in a spare bedroom of his family home, was "seduced by the perceived anonymity of virtual currency and the dark web".
Caldwell added that Force's guilty plea "should send a strong message: neither the supposed anonymity of the dark web nor the use of virtual currency nor the misuse of a law enforcement badge will serve as a shield from the reach of the law....Mr Force has admitted using his position of authority to weave a complex veil of deception for personal profit."
Force has agreed to pay back $500,000, of which $150,000 has already been returned. He will be sentenced in October and, although his plea does not include a specific sentence, the maximum sentence for money laundering is 20 years.