Massive DOJ operation nabs illicit Darknet vendors

The Department of Justice along with other agencies said a yearlong campaign nabbed more than 35 Darknet vendors trafficking in illicit goods.

The operation involved an agent posing as a money launderer on Darknet market sites that deal with virtual currency, the DOJ said in an announcement this week. The Darknet, or Dark Web, are networks of encrypted, often shadowy, websites that are not indexed by common search engines.

“We seized their weapons, their drugs and $23.6 million of their ill-gotten gains. This nationwide enforcement effort will reduce the supply of deadly drugs like fentanyl that are killing an unprecedented number of Americans,” Deputy Attorney General Rod J. Rosenstein said in a statement.

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This was the first nationwide undercover operation aimed at vendors trafficking in illicit goods on the Darknet, the DOJ added. 

The operation, which targeted Darknet vendors “who engage in tens of thousands of sales of illicit goods,” led to the seizure of:

– Illegal narcotics, including 333 bottles of liquid synthetic opioids, over 100,000 tramadol pills, 100 grams of fentanyl, more than 24 kilograms of Xanax, Oxycodone, MDMA, cocaine, LSD, and marijuana.

– More than 100 firearms, including assault rifles and a grenade launcher.

– More than $3.6 million in U.S. currency and gold bars.

– Approximately 2,000 Bitcoins and other cryptocurrencies, with a value of more than $20 million.

– Pill presses, used to create illegal synthetic opioids.

– Bitcoin mining devices, computer equipment and vacuum sealers.

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The list of those arrested include:

– Jian Qu, 30; Raymond Weng, 24; and Kai Wu, 22, all of Queens, New York. Also: Dimitri Tseperkas, 22 and Cihad Akkaya, 22, of Middle Island and Port Jefferson, New York.

Investigators monitoring the Darknet found accounts used by the conspirators. They were charged with participation in a conspiracy to distribute more than 1,000 kilograms of marijuana. Tseperkas and Akkaya were also charged with firearms offenses.

Agents also recovered approximately $400,000 in U.S. currency, 12 kilograms of suspected Xanax pills and over half a kilogram of suspected ecstasy.

– Antonio Tirado, 26, and Jeffrey Morales, 32, of the Bronx, New York, were charged with distribution and possession with intent to distribute narcotics, including cocaine, LSD, marijuana and hashish oil.

They were involved with a Darknet market vendor operating under the moniker “Trapgod,” the DOJ said.

– Nicholas J. Powell, 32, and Michael Gonzalez, 27, were charged with conspiracy to distribute controlled substances and laundering money using the dark web.

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Powell allegedly “used various monikers on Darknet marketplaces as part of his criminal scheme...[and] operated on multiple Darknet marketplaces,” the DoJ said. When arrested, law enforcement had already seized approximately $437,000 in cryptocurrencies from Powell, the DoJ added.

Special Agents of the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s Homeland Security Investigations New York Field Division coordinated with the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York in the operation.

The U.S. Secret Service, the U.S. Postal Inspection Service and the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration were also involved.