Federal Agent Should Get Six Years for Bitcoin Theft, U.S. Says

A government agent who stole $820,000 in bitcoins while investigating an online drug emporium was sentenced to almost six years in prison after a prosecutor said his deceit amounts to a “breathtaking abuse of trust.”

Shaun Bridges, who worked for the Secret Service, hijacked the account of an administrator for the Silk Road black market website to syphon off the digital currency. The U.S. said Bridges deserved a harsh sentence because the administrator was working as a government informant and was put in danger when Silk Road’s founder assumed he was the thief and tried to have him killed.

The informant, Curtis Green, sobbed on the witness stand Monday as he told a San Francisco federal judge he received more than 30 death threats as word got out that he had stolen from the Internet bazaar for drugs, hacker tools and other contraband. He said he couldn’t bring himself to describe in court the graphic threats to his grandchildren.

“So you can imagine the mental stress and anguish that it put me through,” he said.

U.S. District Judge Richard Seeborg said when he imposed the 71-month sentence that Bridges committed an extremely serious crime. He called it “an extraordinary betrayal of public trust that could have gotten a person killed.”

‘Truly Staggering’

Assistant U.S. Attorney Katherine Haun told the judge that the damage done by Bridges, whose past duties included guarding President Obama’s family, went beyond comprising the government’s investigation of Silk Road. She said it’s “truly staggering” that the government has had to shut down other cases in which it relied on Bridges as an expert in digital currency.

Steven Levin, a lawyer for Bridges, had urged the judge to sentence him to no more than three years in prison, saying his crime in the Silk Road case is an aberration in a distinguished 12-year career in law enforcement.

It’s “terrible what Mr. Green has been put through,” Levin told Seeborg. The attorney said, however, his client doesn’t deserve blame for imperiling the government’s informant. The death threats were instead the result of Silk Road founder Ross Ulbricht learning from another agent that Green was cooperating with the government, Levin said.

The government’s investigation of Silk Road led to the conviction of founder Ross Ulbricht, who was sentenced in May to life in prison on drug charges. The government accused Ulbricht of trying to arrange several multiple murders to protect his business, though none were carried out. Testimony at his trial revealed that the underground website handled $214 million in illegal transactions paid for in bitcoins.

A former Drug Enforcement Administration agent who worked with Bridges on the Silk Road probe, Carl Force, was sentenced in October to 6 1/2 years in prison after he too pleaded guilty to stealing bitcoins.

Green pleaded guilty in 2013 to helping an undercover agent arrange the purchase of 1 kilogram (2.2 pounds) of cocaine for about $27,000 in the bitcoins from a drug vendor on Silk Road.

The case is USA v. Bridges, 15-cr-00319, U.S. District Court, Northern District of California (San Francisco).