150 arrested in US-Europe darknet drug probe
Law enforcement officials in the U.S. and Europe have arrested 150 people and seized more than $31 million in an international drug trafficking investigation stemming from sales on the darknet, the Justice Department said Tuesday. (Oct. 26)
Three people were arrested and charged with federal offenses as part of an international, multi-agency effort to locate and charge individuals that sell illicit, lethal drugs using the dark web and cryptocurrency.
Investigators say the defendants shipped counterfeit Adderall from Texas to a Shelby County post office box.
According to a recently filed federal complaint, Kevin Ombisi,Eric Russell, and Winrose Ndichuused the cryptocurrency Bitcoin to buy methamphetamines through a darknet online market. The methamphetamines pills were misleadingly marked as Adderall.
It is thought by Memphis defense attorney Barry McWhirter, who represents Ombisi, that the pills were mailed to an undercover DEA agent who used the Shelby County post box.
Assistant U.S. attorneys prosecuting the case would not comment. McWhirter, maintains his client is innocent.
The complaint said in total, 27 counterfeit Adderall pills were exchanged from Texas. Those pills represent a small fraction of the more than 500 pounds of illicit drugs seized since the start of the initiative in January 2021.
Within the 500 pounds of drugs recovered, the amount of recovered fentanyl was equivalent to an amount that could cause 4 million overdose deaths, authorities said.
In the U.S., 90% of the more than 200,0000 pills seized contained opioids and synthetic opioids in lethal quantities, making the defendants drug charges somewhat of an outlier.
The darknet is part of the internet not indexed by search engines like Google. It’s a heavily encrypted series of web pages and sites that typically requires software that typically cloaks a users identity.
While the arrests occurred in February, the results of the operation were announced in late October. The defendants are three of more than 150 arrests across three continents. In the U.S. arrests were made in 12 states and the District of Columbia.
The timing of the operation, dubbed Operation Dark HunTor, was key according to Deputy Attorney General Lisa O. Monaco.
“Since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, more people have turned to the Darknet than ever before to buy drugs. Already a billion-dollar illicit drug industry, Darknet drug revenue has surpassed pre-pandemic levels, with much of the sales occurring on social media platforms — including sales of fake pills, which are often laced with fentanyl and methamphetamine,” said Monaco.
The operation followed the January disbandment of what was considered the world’s largest marketplace for illicit drugs on the darknet, Darkmarket. The site operated out of a heavily encrypted corner of the internet.
After German authorities arrested the alleged operator of Darkmarket, investigators recovered an abundance of evidence about darknet drug traffickers. That evidence was distributed to law enforcement agencies across the world and in the U.S.
DarkMarket, at the time, was considered the world’s largest market place for illicit drug trade, according to Monaco. It operated out of a highly encrypted corner of the internet.
In total, 12 law enforcement agencies were involved in the execution of Operation Dark HunTor. The U.S. portion of the operation was spearheaded by the Joint Criminal Opioid and Darknet Enforcement team — an initiative launched in 2018 by the Federal Bureau of Investigation.
Monaco stressed that Operation Dark HunTor be taken as a warning that not even encrypted webpages do not serve as an impenetrable cloak of anonymity for drug traffickers.
“There is no dark internet,” Monaco said during a press event. “We can and we will shine a light.”
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Micaela Watts is a reporter for The Commercial Appeal and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.