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Possible New Rogue DEA Agent Found in Silk Road Online Drug Market Case


Silk Road logoWhile Ross Ulbricht, better known as Dread Pirate Roberts, the owner of drug marketplace Silk Road on the “dark web” underbelly of the internet, was sentenced to life in prison last year, his case continues to get more and more complicated. Less than two months after an appellate court heard his case, alleging that the prosecution withheld evidence of two DEA agents’ efforts to make money on Silk Road, his lawyer is now alleging that there was a *third* rogue agent. Where it gets especially dicey for the prosecution is that Ulbricht’s lawyer is suggesting he has found proof that the DEA destroyed evidence.

Silk Road was a marketplace for all kinds of illegal goods and services, but it became best known for its drug trade. To elude law enforcement, it was only accessible through TOR, an anonymizing internet protocol, and only if you had the specific numerical address for the site. The security measures slowed down law enforcement — Silk Road lasted over two and a half years — but obviously, it wasn’t enough to prevent police from finding Ulbricht, who was arrested in October of 2013.

On Tuesday, Ulbricht’s lawyer, Joshua Dratel, held a press conference at his law office in New York City, with both Wired and Motherboard on the scene reporting. During the event, Dratel revealed that his team had found recordingss of messages between Ulbricht and a Silk Road user who went by the names “albertpacino,” “alpacino,” and “notwonderful.” The user claimed to be a government employee willing to sell information about the Silk Road investigation if Ulbricht paid him a $500 per week plus an initial bonus worth several thousand dollars. The problem for the prosecution is that Dratel says these messages were not turned over with other logs that the government submitted into evidence. Dratel’s team found them when digging deep in the site’s backups.

“Someone who the government believed was in the law enforcement investigation was selling information to DPR,”  Dratel explained. “That person made a concerted effort to wipe that evidence from four pieces of [evidence], however there was a fifth piece he wasn’t aware of.” He added that the discovery of the “surgically” deleted messages “totally undermines the integrity of any of the digital evidence in the case.”

Former DEA agent Carl Force and former Secret Service agent Shaun Bridges were convicted of selling information to Ulbricht last year. While Force was originally believed to be “notwonderful,” Dratel says that the totality of the evidence makes it clear that they’re not the same person. “If the government believed it had evidence that Force or Bridges was alpacino, we would have seen it in the hundreds of pages of filings in the [Bridges] and [Force] cases,” he explained. “Notwonderful did not have the same methodology, which was a combination of extortion and threat.”

[Photo: Silk Road logo]

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David Bixenspan is a writer, editor, and podcaster based in New York.