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Justice News

Department of Justice
U.S. Attorney’s Office
Northern District of California

Monday, August 31, 2015

Former Secret Service Agent Pleads Guilty To Money Laundering And Obstruction

Former Silk Road Task Force Agent Used Status to Pocket $820,000 Worth of Bitcoin

SAN FRANCISCO – Shaun W. Bridges pleaded guilty today to money laundering and obstruction of justice in connection with his position as an agent with the U.S. Secret Service announced U.S. Attorney Melinda Haag, Assistant Attorney General Leslie Caldwell, IRS Criminal Investigation Chief Richard Weber, FBI Special Agent in Charge David J. Johnson, IRS Criminal Investigation Special Agent in Charge José M. Martinez, Department of Justice Inspector General Special Agent in Charge Michael P. Tompkins and Department of Homeland Security Inspector General Special Agent in Charge Lori Hazenstab.  The plea marks the end of a major portion of the investigation into the Silk Road, an underground black market that allowed vendors and buyers to conduct illegal transactions over the internet.

Bridges, 32, of Laurel, Maryland was a Special Agent with the U.S. Secret Service and was assigned to the Baltimore Silk Road Task Force, a multi-agency team investigating illegal activity on the Silk Road.  Among the targets of the Task Force was Ross Ulbricht, a/k/a “Dread Pirate Roberts,” who was prosecuted for his involvement with the Silk Road.

In the plea agreement filed today, Bridges admitted he used an administrator account to reset passwords and pins of various accounts on the Silk Road.  This enabled Bridges to move bitcoin into a “wallet” he controlled and which he used to fraudulently move and steal approximately 20,000 bitcoin from Silk Road accounts.  At the time Bridges stole the bitcoin in January 2013, 20,000 bitcoin would have been worth approximately $350,000.  Shortly after Bridges stole the bitcoin, he moved it into an account at Mt. Gox, an online digital currency exchange based in Japan.  Between March and May of 2013, he liquidated the bitcoin into $820,000 of U.S. currency and had the funds transferred to the United States to a personal investment account at Fidelity.  He owned the Fidelity account under the name of Quantum International Investments, LLC.  Later, in June 2014, Bridges transferred money from the Quantum Fidelity account into a personal bank account that he shared with another person.  

On June 16, 2015, Bridges was charged by information with money laundering, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1956, and obstruction of justice, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1512.  In today’s plea agreement, Bridges pleaded guilty to both charges.  In connection with his guilty plea, Bridges acknowledged his actions compromised a District of Maryland grand jury investigation into Ulbricht and the Silk Road. Bridges also acknowledged he made multiple false and misleading statements to both prosecutors and investigators in connection with an investigation being conducted by a San Francisco grand jury.  In addition, Bridges tried to get other government employees to tell false stories to prosecutors and investigators.  In his agreement with the government, Bridges agreed his sentence for money laundering will include enhancements for abuse of trust and obstruction of justice.

“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,” said U.S. Attorney Melinda Haag.  “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.  We appreciate the hard work of our federal partners that went into bringing Mr. Bridges to justice.”

“There is a bright line between enforcing the law and breaking it,” said Assistant Attorney General Caldwell.  “Law enforcement officers who cross that line not only harm their immediate victims but also betray the public trust.  This case shows we will act quickly to hold wrongdoers accountable, no matter who they are.”

“Through a series of complex transactions, the defendant stole bitcoins worth hundreds of thousands of dollars," said Richard Weber, Chief, IRS-Criminal Investigation.  "This case is an excellent example of the financial expertise of our special agents. Through the analysis of both the block chain and data from the Silk Road servers, we were able to trace the flow of funds, which eventually led to the defendant.”

Bridges’ sentencing is scheduled for December 7, 2015, before the Honorable Richard Seeborg, United States District Judge in San Francisco.  The maximum penalty for each count in the information is 20 years and $250,000, but any sentence following conviction would be imposed after consideration of the U.S. Sentencing Guidelines and the federal statute governing the imposition of a sentence.

Bridges is one of two federal agents to be charged with illegal activity in connection with the investigation into the Silk Road.  Carl M. Force, 46, of Baltimore, Maryland, was a Special Agent with the DEA who also was assigned to the Baltimore Silk Road Task Force.  On July 1, 2015, Force pleaded guilty to a three-count information charging him with money laundering with predicates of wire fraud and theft of government property, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1956(a)(1)(A) and (B); obstruction of justice, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1512(c)(2); and extortion under color of official right, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1951, related to his theft and diversion of over $700,000 in digital currency to which he gained control as part of undercover role on the Baltimore Silk Road Task Force.  Force is scheduled to be sentenced by Judge Seeborg on October 19, 2015.               

The case is being prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorneys Kathryn Haun and William Frentzen of the Northern District of California and Trial Attorney Richard B. Evans of the Criminal Division’s Public Integrity Section.  Assistant U.S. Attorney Arvon Perteet assisted with Asset Forfeiture aspects of the case.  The attorneys were assisted by Daniel Charlier-Smith, Lance Libatique, and Christine Tian. The case was investigated by the FBI’s San Francisco Division, the IRS-CI’s San Francisco Division, the Department of Justice Office of the Inspector General, and the Department of Homeland Security Office of the Inspector General in Washington D.C.  Additional assistance was provided by IRS Criminal Investigation – New York Field Office, HSI’s Chicago/O’Hare Division, the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York, the Department of Justice’s Computer Crime and Intellectual Property Section, the U.S. Embassy in Slovenia, the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network, the International Organized Crime Center IOC-2, and the FBI Legal Attaché Office in Tokyo, Japan.

Updated September 1, 2015