The integrity of a high-profile online drug bust has come into question after corruption charges were filed against two investigators. A pair of former federal agents based in Baltimore has been charged with money laundering and wire fraud based on their involvement in the Silk Road Operation.
Silk Road was an illicit online drug marketplace hidden in the “Deep Web.” Estimated to pull in more than $200 million in revenue, it became the target of a federal investigation that ultimately rendered it defunct. The ringleader was identified, charged and convicted.
Last month, allegations surfaced that two key players in the undercover investigation may have been mired in corruption. Criminal charges filed in federal court allege that a former DEA agent and Secret Service agent stole more than $1.5 million during the course of the investigation. The thefts involved Bitcoins, a purportedly untraceable electronic currency. The charges also allege that the DEA agent sold government information to Silk Road operators and attempted to extort them. It remains to be seen whether the corruption allegations will affect the conviction or sentencing of Silk Road’s former ringleader.
The accusations highlight the complexity of online crimes in today’s digital age. The anonymity of the Deep Web can be a double-edged sword. It not only allows users to shield their identities, but also gives law enforcement the ability to infiltrate illicit organizations through undercover investigations. Ironically, it also affords investigators the opportunity to engage in illicit behavior themselves, as these charges illustrate.
Source: The Baltimore Sun, “Two federal agents in Silk Road case criminally charged,” Justin Fenton, March 30, 2015.