Former US drugs agent sentenced to 6 1/2 years in jail for stealing Bitcoins in Silk Road probe

The homepage to Silk Road 2.0, allegedly an underground drug market, is seen in a screenshot after it was closed by U.S. authorities November 6, 2014. © Staff
A disgraced former US federal agent has been sentenced to 78 months in jail for stealing $50,000 worth of Bitcoins during a government probe into the black market website Silk Road while pretending to give its founder information about the investigation.

Carl Force, 46, who used to work as a US Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) agent, admitted charges of extortion, money laundering and obstruction of justice. US District Judge Richard Seeborg who oversaw the case at a federal court in San Francisco said the level of his betrayal was “breathtaking.”

The severity of the sentence, which will also see Force have to pay $340,000 in compensation, was handed down as a warning to other potential officials not to engage in corruption.

READ MORE: Silk Road rogues: Federal agents arrested for theft, extortion, fraud

"The court should send a message that this kind of conduct will be met with a harsh penalty in the form of a high-end prison sentence. A message of leniency communicates to other potentially corrupt government officials that the possibility of prison might be worth the risk in order to profit several hundred thousands or millions of dollars,” the sentence read.

Force’s defense team had been asking for a four-year sentence, citing mental health issues and his battles with alcoholism.

"I'm sorry, I lost it and I don't understand a lot of it," Force said.

US prosecutors had earlier reached a plea deal with Shaun Bridges, a former Secret Service agent, who was charged alongside Force in March. He was also alleged to have stolen Bitcoins during the investigation.

Force and Bridges were part of the Baltimore-based federal task force charged with investigating Silk Road, the underground marketplace for illicit goods and services shut down by the FBI in 2013.

The website’s creator, Ross Ulbricht, denied federal accusations that he operated the site under the name “Dread Pirate Roberts.”

According to government documents, Force was involved in communicating with Ulbricht and posed as a drug dealer. In August 2013, Force convinced Ulbricht to pay him $50,000 in Bitcoins by pretending he had information regarding the investigation.

However, Force never disclosed to the DEA that he had been paid the Bitcoins and instead put them into a personal account.

“His crimes do not represent a ‘one-off’ where he experienced a momentary lapse of judgment,” the court ruling read. “Instead, Force committed crimes over the course of many months (if not years) during which he had time to reflect on what he was doing over and over again.”

“Yet instead of ceasing his misconduct after one incident, he continued with impunity until he was caught. His was an extremely calculated effort, designed to avoid detection for as long as possible, ironically using the very skills (e.g. encryption, Tor, etc.) that he learned on the job and on the public’s dime," the judgment added.

In October 2013, when federal investigators announced the charges against Ulbricht, they called Silk Road “the most sophisticated and extensive criminal marketplace on the Internet,” and claimed that several thousand vendors used the exchange to sell a variety of illicit goods to over 100,000 customers. The site reportedly generated over $213 million in revenue from January 2011 to October 2013, and Ulbricht was charged with taking in millions of dollars in commissions.

Ulbricht was later sentenced to life in prison in May after being found guilty of several charges, including distributing drugs online.