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Ex-U.S. agent charged in Bitcoin theft to plead guilty

(AP Photo/Rick Bowmer, File)

Bitcoin tokens. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer, File)

One of two former U.S. agents charged with pocketing hundreds of thousands of dollars in digital money during the investigation of the illegal Silk Road Internet drug emporium reached a plea agreement with prosecutors.

Shaun Bridges, who worked for the U.S. Secret Service as a computer forensics expert, was part of a Baltimore task force whose investigation led to murder-for-hire and drug charges there against Silk Road founder Ross Ulbricht, known online as Dread Pirate Roberts. He was separately convicted by a jury in New York and sentenced in May to life in prison for running a $214 million criminal enterprise that catered to hackers and drug traffickers.

Bridges allegedly stole $820,000 in bitcoins that he got control of during the probe. He agreed to plead guilty to money laundering and obstruction of justice, according to a filing Wednesday in San Francisco federal court.

“Mr. Bridges has regretted his actions from the very beginning,” Steve Hale Levin, a lawyer for Bridges, said in a phone interview. “His decision to plead guilty reflects his complete acceptance of responsibility and is another step towards rehabilitation.”

Bridges arrested a Silk Road customer support representative and, using passwords he learned from the arrest, moved bitcoin from Silk Road accounts into his own, according to prosecutors. Bridges moved the stolen bitcoin into an account at Mt. Gox, a digital currency exchange based in Japan, and then converted the online currency into U.S. dollars and transferred it at least two more times, eventually to a bank account, prosecutors said.

DEA Agent

Carl Force, the lead undercover agent on the investigation in Baltimore who worked for the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration, is accused of creating fictitious identities, including “French Maid,” to extort and negotiate with Ulbricht.

After extorting Ulbricht, Force wired about $235,000 to an account in Panama to hide it, according to the criminal complaint disclosed in March. He’s also accused of using his position as a DEA agent to run illegal criminal history checks for a digital currency company in which he had invested $110,000.

Force rescheduled a hearing date this month for August, just days before a Aug. 31 hearing at which Bridges will submit his plea, according to court filings.

The case is USA v. Bridges, 15-cr-00319, U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California (San Francisco). The case against Force is U.S. v. Force, 15-mj-70370, U.S. District Court, Northern District of California (San Francisco).