A corrupt former drug enforcement agent who played a central role in taking down the popular online drug bazaar Silk Road will serve six and a half years in prison for corruption, a federal judge ruled Monday.
Carl Mark Force IV pleaded guilty to extortion, money laundering, and obstruction of justice this past summer, after working for two years as an undercover agent foran interagency team tasked with identifying the owner of Silk Road. Force, who spent 15 years with the Drug Enforcement Administration, used his position in the investigation to swindle his way to a payout of more $700,000 in Bitcoin and a Hollywood contract. (Another member of the investigative team, ex-Secret Service Agent Shaun Bridges, also pleaded guilty over the summer to pocketing $820,000 from the accounts of Silk Road users.) Force has also been ordered to pay $340,000 in restitution.
In case you haven’t been following the Silk Road case, here’s a primer:
What exactly was Silk Road, again? Silk Road was a darknet marketplace that connected buyers and sellers dealing in a vast array of narcotics, false documents, weapons, and other contraband. “The idea was to create a website where people could buy anything anonymously, with no trail whatsoever that could lead back to them,” creator Ross Ulbricht wrote in his journal. Users paid in Bitcoin—around $1.2 billion worth—and could only access the site using an anonymous internet browser called Tor. Ulbricht ran Silk Road using the moniker “Dread Pirate Roberts” from January 2011 until 2013, when he was caught red-handed at his laptop by a law enforcement sting in a San Francisco coffee shop.
Depending on whom you ask, the site was either a radical experiment in libertarian principles or “the most sophisticated and extensive criminal market on the Internet,” as the criminal complaint against Force put it.
Ulbricht, who earned a commission on each transaction, was found guilty of drug trafficking, money laundering, and hacking, and he was sentenced to life in prison during the summer. At the sentencing hearing, the federal judge didn’t hide her intention to make an example of Ulbricht: “What you did was unprecedented, and in breaking that ground as the first person you sit here as the defendant now today having to pay the consequences for that.” Ulbricht’s family, defense counsel, and supporters have mounted a public campaign to protest what they call a “draconian sentence.”