The U.S. Department of Justice’s crackdown on dark web dealers continues.
It all started this summer when officials seized the servers of popular darknet market AlphaBay, gaining access to all the transactional data that took place on the site throughout its existence.
The latest development with Homeland Security’s investigations into the market has resulted in the arrest of a father-son duo from a New York suburb.
They have been charged with dealing in dangerous drugs and if convicted, they may face many long years in prison.
Fentanyl and Oxycodone the Drugs Dealt-in
The Homeland Security investigators found the father, Michael Luciano, and his son Phillip allegedly buying and selling two banned drugs, fentanyl and oxycodone.
There were already reports in the public domain that fentanyl overdose had been identified as the cause of many deaths among drug users—and it was in the process of probing one such fatality that investigators found that the drug was being delivered through a vendor, “Zane61” on AlphaBay.
Fentanyl is being described as a synthesized opioid that’s made from different ingredients.
It tests much stronger than the more commonly used drug, heroin.
This may be one of the reasons for the increasing number of fatalities occurring when someone overdoses on this drug.
Even the Modus Operandi Exposed
After detailed questioning of the arrested father and son pair, it is learnt that they would normally order the drugs online through suppliers sourced from China.
Using a medical prescription purportedly issued to treat an injury, Michael (the father) would order the drug.
The son was more adept at dealing in the dark web and using the Zane61 account they would use to sell drugs to AlphaBay buyers.
When the buyers placed orders, the father would make the shipments through the nearest post office, inputting a fake address into the return address column.
And as the payments came in, Phillip would use the money to make Bitcoin transfers.
The whole operation was meant to keep the business away from the eyes of the law enforcement agencies.
The probe team managed to recover an iPad and a phone from the residence of the accused, which also provided them with more details of the drug-dealing operation.
They could gather some information on the quantities of drugs that were sold online, along with additional evidence to establish the crime.
The Duo Had Built a Good Record on the Site
Darknet markets have their own ways of functioning, but it does offer some similarities with top e-retailers like eBay and Amazon.
AlphaBay had features like reviews and a ranking system of sellers, and Michael and Phillip’s Zane61 received good feedback from some of their customers—some posted comments saying that they were happy with the purchases made from this vendor.
The Homeland Security investigators were able to move in on the operation by registering for an account on AlphaBay and placing an order for a small quantity of fentanyl from the Zane61 account, to have the parcel delivered.
This was done to make the case ironclad when it goes for trial.
Now the Trial Will Play Out in Court
Having completed the investigations and filed a formal complaint, the U.S. Department of Justice will now move towards proving the father and son guilty, in an effort to have the court convict them both.
The complaint has stated that Michael and Phillip had conspired to deal and distribute the two banned substances, fentanyl and oxycodone, of which were in their possession—which is not permissible under U.S. law.
If indeed the court finds them guilty, the pair could be sent to prison for as long as 40 years.
It is explained that legally the judge can award a maximum jail sentence of 40 years for the fentanyl offense and 20 years for oxycodone.
Will This Case Break the Myth?
The question that is uppermost in the minds of many observers and commentators is whether the investigation and arrest of this pair sends a signal to others indulging in such nefarious activities on the dark web—perhaps a signal that darknet drug dealers are not as anonymous as they’d expected.
The very premise of these operators and traders forusing darknet sites is that their identities cannot be traced back.
They use anonymity tools to hide their IP addresses, and use cryptocurrencies to mask their financial dealings, and so on.
But, now that law enforcement authorities are gaining more traction in their investigations of the dark web, will newcomers think thrice before starting an illicit trade business on darknet markets? We shall see.