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Agents Nabbed for Swiping Silk Road Bitcoins

(CN) - Two former federal agents probing Silk Road mastermind Ross Ulbricht allegedly swiped hundreds of thousands of dollars in digital drug money for themselves during their investigation, a federal complaint reveals.

One of the agents allegedly extorted the Silk Road ringleader, and soaked other users of their bitcoins by closing their accounts without authorization, prosecutors say.

Unsealed on Monday, the March 25 complaint names two agents who participated in the Baltimore branch of a nationwide investigation into the now-defunct online drug website.

Carl Force, a 46-year-old former agent with the Drug Enforcement Agency, was arrested on Friday.

Shaun Bridges, a 32-year-old former Secret Service agent, turned himself in on Monday.

Various government agencies and jurisdictions were involved in the pursuit of the Silk Road's once-elusive leader "Dread Pirate Roberts" (DPR), who headed a sprawling online market on the Darknet that facilitated an estimated $182.9 million in the global drug trade.

The Silk Road website that Force and Bridges were supposed to be investigating could be accessed as a "hidden service" of the Tor browser. Users communicated with each other through encrypted channels, mailed shipments from decoy addresses, and paid for their items with bitcoins, a difficult-to-trace digital currency.

Force deposited $776,000 from liquidated bitcoins in his bank account, the complaint states.

Bridges allegedly diverted more than $800,000 in bitcoins into his personal account.

At the time, they were supposed to be pursuing the once-elusive Silk Road leader later unmasked as Ross Ulbricht.

Last month, a federal jury in New York convicted Ulbricht as the real "DPR," whose name comes from a character in the celebrated William Goldman book turned 1987 Hollywood blockbuster "The Princess Bride."

Shortly after joining the investigation on Feb. 17, 2012, Force's finances spiked while purportedly pursuing the pirate, proseuctors say.

Although he was only authorized to pursue users under the identity "Nob," Force allegedly created other identities such as "French Maid" and "Death from Above," the account from which he is accused of attempting to extort DPR, the complaint says.

Force threatened to expose DPR's identity, which he believed to be a different suspect, if he did not receive a $250,000.

Ulbricht didn't bite, and wrote in a journal entry: "Somebody says they have my ID, but hasn't proven it," the complaint says.

He later wrote that the "guy who is blackmailing me who says he has my ID is bogus," according to the complaint.

Prosecutors say that Bridges put the assets into an account at the now-defunct digital currency exchange Mt. Gox, whose ex-owner Mark Karpeles was revealed to be a former suspect in the Baltimore investigation during Ulbricht's trial.

Bridges allegedly wired funds into one of his personal U.S. accounts days before seeking a $2.1 million seizure warrant for Mt. Gox's accounts, prosecutors say.

Force and Bridges were slated to appear before a federal magistrate in the Northern District of California today.

They are charged with money laundering and wire fraud.

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