Despite the potential surrounding bitcoin, the alternative payment method has been beleaguered by skepticism and ties to illegal goods ever since it first launched in early 2009. And many have become enthralled in the dark web that bitcoin can weave — even those who one would least suspect.
Such is the case of former U.S. Secret Service agent Shaun Bridges, who stole approximately $350,000 in bitcoin from user accounts on the Silk Road while serving on a task force designed to investigate the online marketplace.
Yesterday (Dec. 7), a judge sentenced Bridges to 71 months in prison, as well as three years of supervised release post-prison. Bridges plead guilty to felony charges of money laundering and obstruction of justice.
While Bridges’ sentence pales in comparison to that of Dread Pirate Roberts, who is serving life in prison, the judge’s ruling did represent the maximum allowable sentencing, The Wall Street Journal reported. As part of his sentence, Bridges was also ordered to pay $1.1 million in restitution.
The judge in Bridges’ trial explained that he was determined to send a lesson to Bridges and others that would act similarly in his position.
“This, to me, is an extremely serious crime consisting of the betrayal of public trust from a public official,” U.S. District Judge Richard Seeborg told the court, as reported by Ars Technica. “From what I can see, it was motivated by greed. 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.”
Ars Technica explained that while working as an investigator on the Baltimore Silk Road Task Force in 2013, Bridges obtained access the log-in credentials from an administrator of the site, Curtis Green, who had recently been taken into custody by Bridges’ task force. Bridges proceeded to access users’ accounts and move bitcoin directly to his own digital wallets. He also transferred these amounts off of Silk Road to accounts he held on Mt. Gox, the long-embattled and now-defunct Japanese bitcoin trading site. Bridges reportedly sold the stolen bitcoin for about $820,000. According to prosecutors, this move also invalidated several legal cases the U.S. government was pursuing against Mt. Gox — and likely contributed to the harsh sentence Bridges received as a result.
“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,” Kathryn Haun, assistant U.S. attorney, told the court, Ars Technica reported. “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.”
As digital banks continue to experiment with blockchain technology, rehabilitating the public image of bitcoin is of paramount importance if average consumers are ever going to be expected to move their money this way. Especially as fintech innovators are looking to experiment with new money categorization strategies, an enthusiasm among developers for bitcoin-enhanced functionality will fall flat every time if there isn’t enough market acceptance to support it.