Federal Agents Arrested for Bitcoin Money Laundering and Fraud

Originally published on April 1, 2015, at NationofChange.org

Two former federal agents have been charged with money laundering, wire fraud, and related offenses during their investigation of the online black market, Silk Road. Former DEA special agent Carl Force allegedly abused his authority by stealing from the government and selling sensitive information to the target of their investigation, while former Secret Service special agent Shaun Bridges reportedly diverted over $800,000 Silk Road bitcoins into his personal account instead of confiscating the funds as government property. By taking advantage of encrypted communications, multiple aliases, and hacked administrator accounts, these federal agents operated in the shadows and above the law.

According to court documents, Ross Ulbricht created Silk Road in January 2011 and operated the underground website until law enforcement agencies shut it down in October 2013. By concealing the IP addresses of the computers, the Silk Road became an open market facilitating both legal and illegal commerce. Although the majority of items sold on the website were illicit narcotics, Silk Road also offered computer hacking services, fake IDs, and other forged documents. After Sen. Chuck Schumer learned about the site, he asked law enforcement authorities to shut down Silk Road.

Between 2012 and 2013, agents Force and Bridges served on the Baltimore Silk Road Task Force. As the lead undercover agent, Force established communication with Ulbricht, while Bridges worked as the computer forensics expert on the team. Force initially fed Ulbricht fraudulent information, but the DEA agent also created multiple pseudonyms and began encrypting his surreptitious communications with Ulbricht.

Under the moniker “Nob,” Force posed as a criminal offering to kill Silk Road employee Curtis Green before he could become a potential witness against Ulbricht. Designed to ensnare Ulbricht into a murder-for-hire plot, the sting merely allowed Force to initiate contact with Ulbricht who went by the pseudonym “DPR” or “Dread Pirate Roberts.” After a few months of communication with Ulbricht, Force began encrypting his conversations and utilizing multiple online personas without informing his superiors.

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Army Apologizes to Troops Exposed to US-Designed Chemical Weapons in Iraq

Originally published on March 27, 2015, at NationofChange.org

In response to a New York Times investigation, the undersecretary of the Army apologized this week for the military’s mishandling of more than 600 service members who reportedly suffered from chemical exposure in Iraq. After being exposed to potentially lethal amounts of sulfur mustard and sarin gas, US troops often received inadequate medical treatment, gag orders, and found themselves ineligible for Purple Heart medals. Due to the fact that many of the chemical weapons were American-designed artillery shells manufactured in European countries, the Pentagon neglected to inform the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence of the proliferation of dangerous chemical munitions being uncovered in Iraq.

On May 15, 2004, then-Staff Sgt. James Burns of the 752nd Explosive Ordnance Disposal Company and Pfc. Michael Yandell were exposed to sarin gas from a 152-millimeter binary sarin shell. After receiving substandard medical treatment, Sgt. Burns and Pfc. Yandell returned to the field and began suffering long-term symptoms of nerve agent exposure. Burns’ medical records from late 2004 described memory lapses, reading difficulties, problems with balance, and tingling in his legs.

“They put a gag order on all of us — the security detail, us, the clinic, everyone,” Burns recalled. “We were briefed to tell family members that we were exposed to ‘industrial chemicals,’ because our case was classified top secret.”

In July 2008, six Marines reported exposure to mustard gas from an artillery shell. On August 16, 2008, five soldiers had been exposed to mustard gas while destroying a weapons cache. The blisters on their skin were the size of their hands. In April 2010, seven Iraqi police officers became exposed to a dozen M110 mustard shells found near the Tigris River.

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Cop Charged with Homicide for Shooting Unarmed Man Twice in the Back

Originally published on March 26, 2015, at NationofChange.org

A Pennsylvania police officer was charged with criminal homicide on Tuesday for shooting an unarmed man in the back while he remained facedown on the ground. Although the unarmed man had been fleeing from a traffic stop over expired tags, the District Attorney admitted that the video from the officer’s Taser shows nothing in the victim’s hands when the officer shot him twice in the back. Accused of employing deadly force without justification, the officer has been released on bail and is under electronic monitoring.

Around 4pm on February 2, Hummelstown Police Officer Lisa Mearkle noticed a blue Saturn with expired inspection and emission stickers from last December. After Mearkle activated her patrol car’s lights and siren, 59-year-old David Kassick fled to his sister’s home where he had been living temporarily. Arriving at his sister’s residence, Kassick pulled the Saturn into the driveway, exited the vehicle, and ran towards the backyard. Mearkle parked her patrol car behind his vehicle and pursued Kassick on foot.

After closing the distance between them, Mearkle fired her Taser deploying probes into Kassick’s back. Kassick fell facedown onto the snow as Mearkle held the Taser in her left hand and drew her Glock .22 pistol in her right hand. After ordering Kassick to show his hands, Mearkle shot him again with her Taser. Momentarily unable to see Kassick’s left hand, Mearkle fired a bullet into his back.

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DOJ Report Criticizes Philadelphia Police Department’s Use of Deadly Force

Originally published on March 25, 2015, at NationofChange.org

After experiencing an escalation in police shootings and civil rights lawsuits, Philadelphia Police Commissioner Charles Ramsey requested assistance from the Justice Department in 2013 to investigate the rising incidents of officer-involved shootings. On Monday, the Justice Department released its report criticizing the Philadelphia Police Department’s aggressive use of deadly force, lack of transparency, and inadequate training procedures. Marred by a history of misconduct and scandals, Philadelphia police officers have lost both the public’s trust and cooperation.

Conducted by the Department of Justice’s Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS) Office and written by the nonprofit Virginia-based CNA Corporation, the report issued 48 findings and 91 recommendations for the Philadelphia Police Department (PPD) to reform its deadly force practices. Reviewing hundreds of departmental policies, manuals, and training plans, CNA conducted 164 interviews with community members and department personnel between 2007 and 2013.

During that period, the Justice Department found that 540 PPD officers discharged their firearms in 364 officer-involved shootings. 59% of the officers were white, 34% were black, 7% were Hispanic, and less than 1% of the officers were Asian. The average age of officers involved in shootings was 33 years old.

In contrast, 80% of the suspects were black, 10% were Hispanic, 9% were white, and 1% of the suspects were Asian. The average age of the suspects was 20 years old.

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Four Correctional Officers Sentenced to Prison for Covering Up Inmate Abuse

Originally published on March 21, 2015, at NationofChange.org

Four former corrections officers were sentenced to prison on Wednesday after pleading guilty to beating inmates and covering up multiple incidents of abuse. Altogether, eight corrections officers have been convicted of conspiracy and obstruction charges related to severe beatings within the Macon State Prison (MSP) in Oglethorpe, Georgia. Although the former prison guards admitted that they were following orders from their superiors, no commanding officers have been convicted of any charges.

According to court documents, Macon State Prison inmate Terrance Dean engaged in a verbal and physical altercation with an MSP corrections officer on December 16, 2010. Responding to the incident, Correctional Emergency Response Team (CERT) members Darren Douglass-Griffin, Willie Redden, Ronald Lach, Kerry Bolden, Delton Rushin, Derrick Wimbush, and CERT Sergeant Christopher Hall placed Dean in handcuffs before escorting him from the room. Instead of taking him to the medical unit, the CERT officers escorted Dean to a gymnasium without any surveillance cameras.

Although Dean had his hands cuffed behind his back and was not resisting, the CERT officers viciously beat him for several minutes until Dean lost consciousness on the floor. After the beating the CERT officers transported Dean to the medical unit, where he was diagnosed with gross deformity to the head, five-inch long hematoma to the head and temple, laceration to the mouth, and closed head trauma. Non-responsive to verbal commands, Dean was transferred to multiple hospitals and diagnosed with traumatic brain injury.

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