Former Secret Service agent Shaun Bridges was sentenced Monday to 71 months in prison after he stole money from Silk Road dealers while investigating the site.
“This, to me, is an extremely serious crime consisting of the betrayal of public trust from a public official. From what I can see, it was motivated by greed,” US District Judge Richard Seeborg told the court today. “No departure or variance is warranted in this case. I seldom find myself in the position of imposing a high-end sentence, but I find this is warranted in this case.”
In addition to his sentence today, the judge ordered Bridges to forfeit the following property: $165,000 from Fidelity brokerage, $306,000 held in trust, and $4,000 from a PNC Bank account.
Bridges pleaded guilty in October 2015 to charges of money laundering and obstruction of justice. He also agreed to pay $500,000 in restitution. That same month, Bridges’ co-investigator, Carl Mark Force of the Drug Enforcement Agency, was sentenced by Judge Seeborg to 6.5 years in prison. Force pled guilty in June 2015.
Bridges’ sentencing is merely the latest as the fallout from the Silk Road case continues: last Friday, the FBI announced that Silk Road mastermind Ross Ulbricht’s alleged top adviser was arrested in Thailand and is pending extradition to the United States. Ulbricht himself was sentenced to life in prison in May 2015.
“This was not just a pure theft. This was not someone stealing money from the till,” said Richard B. Evans, an attorney from the Department of Justice’s Criminal Division, Public Integrity Section. “This was a federal law enforcement agent that was involved in a multi agency task force who decided to steal bitcoins that he later converted to cash, from the target of the investigation and later blamed on a cooperating witness.”
Bridges, who worse a black suit and tie, showed no emotion during the proceeding.
“Worthy of Trust and Confidence”
Bridges’ plot to steal bitcoins from Silk Road and send them to his own overseas account was almost surreal.
After Silk Road admin Curtis Green was arrested in January 2013, he debriefed agents in Baltimore. Bridges took Green’s login credentials and started locking Silk Road drug dealers out of their accounts. Bridges would then loot the accounts, in total grabbing about 20,000 bitcoins.
Eventually, Bridges moved the bitcoins into his Mt. Gox account. They were worth more than $300,000 at the time of the theft. His interest in Mt. Gox at this point led to a number of actions that would compromise other legal cases for the government.
“The number of cases that Mr. Bridges contaminated—as well as investigations across the country that his conduct led to have to be shut down—is startling,”
Assistant United States Attorney (AUSA) Kathryn Haun said in court today. “There was another investigation into Mt. Gox that had to be shut down. I can tell you that Mr. Bridges learned there was a criminal investigation afoot with Mt. Gox, and what did he do? He turned around to the AUSA and did a civil seizure warrant to [Mt. Gox founder Mark] Karpeles.
But two days before he did that, he made sure to get all of his money out. Bridges didn’t want a criminal case to proceed because if the government got the records, they would have seen his name.”
In addition to his Mt. Gox account, Bridges created his own shell company, Quantum International Investments LLC, between March and May of 2013 to act as a final vehicle for the money.
At the time, the bitcoins’ value rose to about $820,000.
The government’s own 12-page sentencing memorandum begins with a verbal slap in the face to Bridges. It contained an epigraph, citing the motto of the United States Secret Service: “Worthy of Trust and Confidence.” Prior to the sentencing, prosecutors asked the judge to impose a sentence of nearly six years:
“Exceptional professional accomplishment”
For his part, Bridges’ lawyers Craig Denney and Steven Hale Levin asked the judge to impose a sentence of just three years in their own sentencing memo. The attorneys explained that prior to this “profound tragedy,” his client was a man of “exceptional professional accomplishment.”
“There are no excuses; we’re not making excuses. Mr. Bridges has not made excuses,” Hale Levin said in court. “Mr. Bridges knows he acted foolishly—that’s an understatement. He knows he acted foolishly when he stole the bitcoins, but he’s not a fool.” The attorney went on to note that his client “returned all the money he could” after signing a plea deal on March 3. Bridges’ own testimony echoed similar sentiments.
“I am very proud of my past at least before this, before this moment. I’ve lost a lot. I’ve accepted responsibility. I owe all this money though I never spent a penny of it,” Bridges told the court. “I have lived with this burden for two years. I could never spend any of it. I want it to be clear that I accept full responsibility. My wife has lost everything, she went to college to go to law enforcement and now she has lost it all. I just wanted to apologize to everybody.”
In the sentencing memo, Denney and Hale Levin wrote that Bridges comes from a family with a long history in the United States Air Force (both of his parents served a combined 50 years). He began his own law enforcement career 12 years ago.
At one point, Bridges was a firearms instructor and hostage negotiator with the Maryland State Police before moving on to the Secret Service in 2009. In 2010, the former agent even received a letter from Walter Koran, the head of the Firearms Division, honoring Bridges for his performance in a “Semi-Automatic Pistol Course” (Bridges achieved a perfect 300 score). In 2014, Bridges was also chosen by the Secret Service to be its first agent assigned to the National Security Agency.
But perhaps Bridges’ most paradoxical moment came when his duties involving White House security seemingly overlapped with his desire for bitcoins.
“He was charged with guarding members of the First Family,” AUSA Haun said in court. “One item of discovery was a series of text messages in which Mr. Bridges engaged with another member of the Baltimore IRS task force, and the two were routinely talking about their bitcoin trading. It was unclear if it was part of the proceeds of this case, but all the while [Bridges] is telling the other person: ‘I’m guarding Mrs. Obama right now.’”
During the prosecution’s phase of the sentencing hearing, the court heard from Curtis Green (referred to in court documents as “CG”) himself.
Green, who wore a tie, a white dress shirt and khaki pants, spoke movingly about being betrayed by Bridges, stuttering, weeping, and visibly shaken during a few moments during his statement.
The Utahan said that the first time he met Bridges, he was sitting in the Secret Service building with what he was told was the “entire Baltimore Silk Road Task Force.” Bridges himself sat just a few feet away. Green was being presented with a chance to come clean, and was given a “proffer,” an agreement with government prosecutors to come clean, and testify against Ulbricht in exchange for a lighter sentence.
“They told me that as long as I told the truth, 100 percent the truth, nothing could be held against me, so I made sure that i told 100% of the truth,” he said. “Every question they asked, I answered 100 percent truthfully as far as i knew it. After we started, and we got to how to log in, I showed them how to log in and the agents were taking notes and asking simple questions.”
“Mr. Bridges kept asking me how to get in and asking specifically how to change the password,” Green continued. “I turned my computer towards him to actually show him exactly how to do it and I think I showed him more than once and in fact, later on right before he left to go move the bitcoins, he asked me to show him one more time to make sure that he knew exactly. It was fairly complicated. He set me up to take the fall.”
Green explained how that when Bridges transferred the seized bitcoins to Green’s account, that this would put all the suspicion on Green himself.
“What that did was that he wanted Ulbricht to know that it was me that did it—he knew that [Dread Pirate Roberts] knew exactly who I was,” he said. “He knew that Ulbricht had millions if not hundreds of millions of dollars at his disposal and when you’re dealing with a criminal who can definitely put my life in danger. When he moved the bitcoins, he moved them into my account, so it really looked like I did it. anybody looking into it, it would be a no-brainer. He was very calculated and very well thought out in my opinion.”
“And also, i can’t tell you how many death threats I have received,” Green said, haltingly speaking through tears.
“More than 30 and probably less than 200. One death threat specifically told what they would do to my grandchildren in great detail. It was very specific. Using their full names, middle names, addresses. And so you can imagine, the mental stress and anguish that it put me through. Not only that I was basically under self-imposed house arrest, Carl Force was one of the guys that Ulbricht happened to hire to kill me and then we faked my death and took photos. It was very realistic, and we sent them in and there was also a 2nd group that was hired to kill me. I had two different groups that were supposed to kill me and my family. I didn’t even know about the second group until recently. I am so fortunate that none of this happened.”
The court was nearly silent—except for reporters tapping away—during the emotional statement, which lasted several minutes.
“They can kill me—I just don’t want them to hurt my family,” he said, wiping away tears.
“I was house bound for a year, almost a year. I didn’t leave about a 30 feet radius to my kitchen. I had to have all my blinds drawn and Carl Force called me on a daily basis to make sure that i was keeping low and not going out and the one thing I don’t even know if Ms. Haun knows but Carl one day called me and he said: ‘You’ll be receiving a call from Shaun Bridges, tell him whatever he needs to know.’ I thought: ‘These are the good guys, they’re there to protect me.’ Obviously I was totally wrong. And he did call me, and we talked about Bitcoin and i educated him and i unfortunately wish i would have never gotten involved in Bitcoin to be honest with you.
I educated him thinking I was helping the government, I educated Mr. Bridges and Carl Force on Bitcoin, how to move Bitcoin how to essentially hide it. and that’s the one thing that knowing Bitcoin as well as i do, I consider myself an expert in Bitcoin since I’ve been there since the beginning. Bitcoin is extremely easy to hide. I could have $1 billion on a thumb drive in my pocket right now. Unless you put it on a computer, you would never know.”
Moments later, Green regained his composure, and spoke with conviction.
“Mr. Bridges being a federal agent, I believe, needs to be held to a higher standard,” he said.
“His crime was definitely not victimless. I am still trying to deal with the emotional and physical pain it has caused me. I have lost and gained 120 pounds two times since this has all happened. I have been diagnosed with [post-traumatic stress disorder] and have been seeing a psychologist for that. And now, the other guy that was helping them, was just arrested three days ago—Variety Jones—that kind of gives me a little comfort knowing that he’s in custody because he’s the other person that really wanted me dead and who was helping. I just hope that I can now get my life back into order and like I said, this is def not a victimless crime and what I went through was literal hell. Thank you.”
Soon after, the defense asked to call two people who wished to speak on Bridges’ behalf: his former boss at the Secret Service in Baltimore, and his wife, Ariana Esposito. Judge Seeborg admonished Levin, Bridges’ lawyer, for springing their oral statements on him at the last-minute, but decided to allow them to speak.
Both women spoke at length about Bridges’ prior law enforcement career, asking for the judge to impose as much leniency as possible.
Esposito herself also has sustained professional damage for her husband’s misdeeds as well. She had been an aspiring entrant into law enforcement, having recently completed the Maryland State Trooper academy. However, earlier this year, when she invoked her marital privilege to shield herself from being compelled to testify against her husband, lost her pending job as a state trooper.
But, she acknowledged to the court that her husband knows what he did wrong: “He shall and will pay a heavy price, as he has already lost everything.”
Ars approached Bridges after the hearing concluded, but Levin ushered him away, advising him not to speak.