Skip to main content criminal complaint shows a conection with Silk Road case in HSI agent Jared Der-Yeghiayan

Until the site went offline some 35 hours ago, torrent distribution site Kickass Torrents was widely believed to be the most popular torrent site on the internet, having surpassed the long-troubled Pirate Bay in traffic years ago. Kickass Torrents was taken offline after the arrest of Ukrainian Artem Vaulin in Poland, who law enforcement are accusing of using the site to profit from copyright infringement. Copies of a US Federacriminal complaint brought against Vaulin in the Northern District of Illinois reveal an interesting connection with another incredibly controversial investigation: the case brought against Ross Ulbricht for the now-famous Silk Road website.

The connection between the Kickass Torrents investigation and the Silk Road investigation comes in the form of a single individual: Homeland Security Investigator Jared Der-Yeghiayan. The Kickass Torrents criminal complaint is entirely based on a sworn affidavit provided by Der-Yeghiayan to the court on July 8th. The affidavit is lengthy, and claims that Der-Yeghiayan has evidence linking Vaulin to Kickass Torrents social media accounts and bitcoin exchanges linked to Kickass Torrents. The affidavit relies largely on information provided to Der-Yeghiayan by third parties such as Apple, who Der-Yeghiayan claims confirmed Der-Yeghiayan's iPhone was linked to IP addresses identified by Homeland Security. There is very little in the way of a smoking gun in the Kickass Torrents criminal complaint that I have seen yet.

Jared Der-Yeghiayan was also heavily involved in the investigation of Ross Ulbricht for creating and managing the website Silk Road, which at one point was a forum for buying and selling drugs. Ultimately investigators would charge Ulbricht with a laundry list of offenses, that inevitably lead to a jaw-dropping life conviction for a man never formally accused of a violent crimei. 

Der-Yeghiayan played a large role in the Ulbricht trial, describing for jurors how he arranged roughly 50 "undercover" purchases of drugs using a fraudulently created account on the Silk Road marketplace. News accounts of Der-Yeghiayan's testimony made it seem as though it was a hunch on the part of Der-Yeghiayan that directed law enforcement attention to the Silk Road in the first place. In a gushing  article focused on Der-Yeghiayan titled "Homeland Security Officer: How I Busted The Web's Biggest Illegal Marketplace", Business Insider had this to say:

Jared Der-Yeghiayan, a Department of Homeland Security special agent, told jurors that he began investigating Silk Road when he noticed that many of the drug shipments coming through Chicago's O'Hare International Airport — where he worked at the time — matched up with photos, descriptions, and 'shipped from' location of the drugs advertised on Silk Road's website." 

The Silk Road investigation became the subject of harsh criticism as it became clear that investigators involved with the case - specifically DEA agent Carl Powers Secret Service Agent Shaun Bridges - agreed to sell information related to the criminal investigation focused on Ulbricht *to* Ulbricht for some $148,0000 as part of two separate transactions, agreed to an illegal deal with 20th Century Fox for movie rights to his 'story' of the investigation, and used an illegal position as a "compliance officer" for a bitcoin firm to steal $300,000 worth of the digital currency. In all, the pair were accused of illegally acquiring whether through extortion, money laundering or bribery, acquiring over $700,000 in illegal funds through theft, fraud and abuse of ofice. Powers was eventually convicted of extortion, money laundering and obstruction of justice extortion, money laundering and sentenced to 78 months in federal prison. Bridges arranged some sort of plea agreement; I'm unsure whether he did time but it looks like agreeing to testify against Powers kept him out of the pokey. 

In a depressingly common decision for our rapidly deteriorating justice system, both Powers and Bridges were allowed to testify against Ross Ulbricht during the Silk Road trial, and details of their criminal conspiracy to become millionaires through wire fraud enabled as part of their investigation of Ulbricht was kept out of the courtroom - jurors would never hear, for example, about how Powers attempted on two occasions to sell Ulbricht details of the investigation, but jurors would hear details of an accusation that Ulbricht was never formally charged for - the assassination of a middle aged administrator of the website; a scheme that was manufactured entirely by Powers and for which the only evidence existent of Ulbrichts involvement were private chat logs produced from Powers' unmonitored home computer. The Silk Road trial has widely been decried as both a miscarriage of justice and a stunning example of the hypocrisy of the Obama administration, who before, during and after the Ulbricht trial have claimed that there is "no longer a War on Drugs". Despite the vaguely technical trappings of the Ulbricht trial, there was nothing new about US courts sentencing a man to live in a cage for the rest of his life based on a questionable drug crime investigation. If there was in fact anything unusuaabout the Silk Road case, it was the Powers and Bridges - two outrageously corrupt law enforcement officers - were held accountable for their actions. 

To be clear - there is no evidence that Jared Der-Yeghiayan was involved in the criminal conspiracy undertaken by Powers and Bridges, and in fact it remains unclear what sort of relationship, if any, he had with either of them during the investigation. Der-Yeghiayan was and is a Homeland Security investigator, so he was not part of the same agency as either Powers and Bridges - however, Powers and Bridges were each part of separate law enforcement agencies themselves. I welcome feedback from those more familiar on details surrounding the Silk Road task force.

With that said, there does seem to be a theme between the two cases: both are focused on the imprisonment of a mysterious figure responsible for founding a well-known and controversial website. Both cases revolve around accusations of non-violent behavior that a large and growing number of people do not think should be crimes (both US drug policy and US intellectual property laws are extremely regressive and controversial both domestically and abroad). It is disappointing that Homeland Security has decided that it is worthwhile to have their agents devote "thousands of hours" (to quote Der-Yeghiayan) in attempts to stop file-sharing and drug-use - two activities that we can be fairly certain of are not going to go away no matter how many people are snatch off the streets of Poland. If Ulbricht and Vaulin are indeed responsible for what they have been accused of, it is unlikely that their efforts lead to more people engaging in either file sharing or drug use; it is much more likely that they - while active - reduced the danger inherent in both activities. After all, the Silk Road replaced buying drugs in the street with buying drugs on a website through an accredited and trusted third party. File sharing sites like Kickass Torrents replaced buying burned CDs and DVDs from out of the trunk of some weirdo's car. In both cases, a sketchy transaction that can easily degenerate into outright theft, violence or imprisonment is replaced with an instant transaction that could be performed in the safety of a customer's home.

Whatever your views on the morality of sharing files and sharing joints might be, perhaps the time of Mr Der-Yeghiayan and his colleagues would be better spent investigating violent criminals.