On November 7, 2013, about a month after the arrest of Ross Ulbricht for running the notorious darknet marketplace Silk Road, I received an email from Carl Mark Force IV, a federal agent who had worked on the case.
He wanted to become a partner in my company, an online retailer for precious metals that accepts digital currency. He sent his resume and told me not to be turned off by the whole Drug Enforcement Administration thing. "My civil service days are numbered," he wrote.
I didn't know it then, but he was right.
At the end of October, Force had ordered some gold on my website, GoldSilverBitcoin, which I had shipped to him via registered and insured mail, meaning he'd have to provide an ID to the post office to receive the shipment, thus confirming his identity.
At this point, the name "Carl Mark Force IV" was generally unknown to the world, so I Googled it and found a since-deleted Twitter account under his name. He was tweeting to others on the social media platform about his role in the Silk Road investigation and pitching a book idea on his role in the investigation to people he thought would be a good co-author.
Force suggested he could be my company's compliance officer
Force suggested he could be my company's compliance officer, ensuring that we followed all the strict regulations that apply to businesses that transfer money. He told me he had grown passionate about digital currency and that he had accumulated millions of dollars in Bitcoin after having bought it while it was cheap.
"I am looking to separate [from] DEA and the sooner the better, but the one great thing is that I have a lot of contacts and can get things done that others couldn't," he wrote. "Hope to hear from you!"
If anything, I was predisposed to trust this individual more because of his work history. His story, that he was a lucky Bitcoin investor who happened to work for the federal law enforcement, would make him a valuable asset. Still, in the recesses of my mind, something didn't make sense—and I wasn't looking for investment anyway. I never replied. But he was determined, so he emailed me again a couple of weeks later:
As I advised, I am actively looking for a partner in the Bitcoin arena to exploit the tremendous profit potential before Bitcoin becomes mainstream.
I am not an IT guy, I am assuming that you are and designed and implemented the goldsilverbitcoin website.
I propose that I take over the AML/Compliance section of your business and prepare Financial Statements and the General Ledger.
The major thing with compliance is going to be handling subpoenas if goldsilverbitcoin is served. I can easily take care of that, since that is what I do now, but on the other side of it.
I hope this does not come across too aggressive. I just identified you as an individual that I would like to work with … it was your prompt answers to my questions.
Carl "Mark" Force
His reference to my "prompt answers" alludes to my passable customer service.
That he was sending me these emails while he was working for the federal government and telling me how he was going to leave the agency to pursue Bitcoin investments just seemed off. He was also in Baltimore and I was in California, which made working together impractical. Again, I did not reply.
Six months later he wrote again:
Carl Force here … I did some business with you awhile back. I was wondering if you were looking for a partner. As I remember, we talked about it briefly. If so please give me a call at ***-***-****
That was the last I heard of him—until I clicked on a link from the New York Times in March and realized just what kind of bullet I had dodged:
On Monday, the government charged that in the shadows of an undercover investigation of Silk Road, a notorious black-market site, two federal agents sought to enrich themselves by exploiting the very secrecy that made the site so difficult for law enforcement officials to penetrate.
The agents, Carl Mark Force IV, who worked for the Drug Enforcement Administration, and Shaun W. Bridges, who worked for the Secret Service, had resigned amid growing scrutiny, and on Monday they were charged with money laundering and wire fraud. Mr. Force was also charged with theft of government property and conflict of interest.
About 18 months after he initially contacted me, Force was charged with money laundering, wire fraud, theft of government property, and conflict of interest due to his actions while working on the Silk Road case. He pled guilty and was sentenced to six-and-a-half years in prison.
In retrospect, I can only assume that by contacting me Force was attempting to hide bitcoins he had stolen from the Silk Road's proprietor Dread Pirate Roberts.
At his trial, Force showed remorse for his actions. "I would just like to publicly apologize to the American people, to the US government, to my friends and family. I'm sorry. I lost it. I don't understand a lot of it," he said. His lawyer brought up his alcoholism, mental health issues, job stresses, and the death of his father in April 2013. The judge, however, was unsympathetic, saying "The extent and scope of Mr. Force's betrayal of the public trust is quite breath-taking."
I spoke to Force's lawyer, Ivan Bates. When I told him that Force had contacted me to solicit investment and spent bitcoins at my website, he seems unsurprised.
"What's happened to Carl is done," Bates said. "He's going to pay his debt to society and work to rebuild his life with his family."
In Bate's mind, the results of the case are not all bad for Force. The court recommended that Force receive treatment for his mental health issues while incarcerated, though it's not clear whether he is receiving that treatment.
One thing is for sure, I'm lucky I didn't answer that email.