The numbers are revealing. 288 arrests. 117 firearms. 850 kilograms of drugs. $53.4 million in cash and virtual currencies.
That was the impact of Operation SpecTor, a coordinated international effort targeting fentanyl and opioid trafficking on the dark web.
The dark web lives up to its name: it describes Internet sites that are hidden and only accessible through a specialized web browser, software, or settings. The goal of the dark web is to allow users to remain anonymous, which creates a perfect environment for those looking to profit from illegal activities. As part of that effort, marketplaces on the dark web often only accept payments via digital currencies, such as Bitcoin.
The operation was led by the Department’s Joint Criminal Opiates and Dark Web Enforcement (or JCODE) team and built on the successes of previous takedowns of markets such as Hydra, resulting in a series of coordinated but separate police investigations and more than 100 federal operations and prosecutions. Attorney General Merrick B. Garland said the operation “represents the largest amount of funds seized and the largest number of arrests in any coordinated international action led by the Department of Justice against drug traffickers on the dark web.”
arrests and seizures
One such action resulted in a 16-year sentence being imposed on Anton Peck of Boca Raton, Floria, for conspiring to possess with intent to distribute controlled substances, including methamphetamine, heroin, and fentanyl, a synthetic opioid up to fifty times stronger. than heroin. According to court documents, Peck distributed narcotics from dark web markets using the “Syntropy” profile; his client list included more than 6,000 people. Peck and co-conspirators Kevin Fusco and Vincent Banner accepted payment in cryptocurrency and then shipped fentanyl, heroin, and methamphetamine across the country using the US Postal Service. Fusco was sentenced to 11 years in prison for his role in the conspiracy and Banner is awaiting sentencing.
One month before Peck’s sentencing, a federal grand jury returned an 11-count indictment charging Christopher Hampton, of Cerritos, California, with various narcotics and weapons offenses. He is accused of heading an organization that operated laboratories that used high-speed pill presses to manufacture fake pills containing fentanyl and methamphetamine; the machines emulate the brand names on authentic prescription pills, such as Oxycodone or Adderall. According to court documents, he was active on at least nine dark web markets where he normally used the moniker “Narco710”, allegedly selling nearly $2 million worth of narcotics on just two of these dark web markets. At the time of his arrest, police found and seized 450 pounds of suspected narcotics, six pill machines and illegal firearms, including assault rifles and a machine gun. Agents also located a storage unit linked to the drug conspiracy and seized more than 80 pounds of pressed fentanyl pills, eight weapons and materials to press other tablets.
Holly Adams and Devlin Hosner of Indio, California, were charged with conspiracy to distribute and possess with intent to distribute fentanyl and methamphetamine and conspiracy to launder money. According to court documents, Adams and Hosner used accounts called “igogrrawwr” and “its4real” on the darknet marketplaces ToRReZ and Darkode to sell tens of thousands of counterfeit oxycodone pills containing fentanyl in exchange for cryptocurrency. Adams and Hosner allegedly conducted more than 1,100 narcotics and other contraband transactions and received more than $800,000 in cryptocurrency in exchange. Federal law enforcement officers found more than 10,000 counterfeit oxycodone pills and approximately 60 grams of methamphetamine at a hotel where Adams and Hosner lived. Adams and Hosner are currently awaiting trial.
Among the agencies involved in the investigation was the IRS-CI, which, according to IRS-CI chief Jim Lee, plays “an integral role in these investigations by following the money trail, whether in fiat currency or assets.” digital on the blockchain. ”
“Everyone knows that the IRS-CI investigates tax crimes, but our special agents, and their expertise in following financial leads, are often the reason cybercriminals trafficking illegal narcotics on the dark web end up on the trail of criminals. bars,” Lee said. “Like our tax cases, we have to gather evidence of complex financial transactions that are often used to hide proceeds from illicit activities.”
IRS-CI worked with other agencies, including the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the Drug Enforcement Administration, the US Postal Inspection Service, and Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, as part of the operation. Law enforcement agencies from Austria, Brazil, France, the Netherlands, Poland, Switzerland and the United Kingdom were also key.
In comments made in Washington, D.C.Garland said of the operation: “Our message to criminals on the dark web is this: They may try to hide in the far reaches of the Internet, but the Department of Justice will find them and hold them accountable for their crimes.”