For as long as they have existed, dark web marketplaces have always been associated with illicit activities including drug and gun trafficking.
In many of these cases, arrests continue to be made a long time after darknet markets have been taken down by law enforcement authorities. In a recent case, two men from Georgia were arrested and charged with selling weapons to individuals in a number of countries through the dark web. The announcement was made by the United States Attorney’s Office for the Northern District of Georgia.
The 28-year-old Gerren Johnson from Atlanta and 29-year-old William Jackson from East Point were apprehended by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF).
Johnson and Jackson were part of a dark web conspiracy involving the sale of illegal firearms across three continents through several underground trading platforms in 2013 and 2014.
The arrests were possible due to the mail system, which is the weakest link in the dark web drugs and illegal weapons trade. Law enforcement authorities managed to track more than 50 packages sent from Georgia to over 12 countries.
According to court documents, law enforcement authorities first got wind of the dark web smuggling ring after agents in Australia discovered a 9mm pistol concealed in a karaoke machine back in June 2013. The machine had been shipped to an address in Melbourne from Winston, Georgia. When the local recipient of the package was questioned by Australian authorities, he confessed to having purchased the illegal firearm on the darknet site Black Market Reloaded for $3,000 in Bitcoin. The vendor from which the man bought the weapon went by the username CherryFlavor.
Black Market Reloaded was a Tor hidden site that gained popularity after the takedown of Silk Road. The site officially went offline in late November 2013.
The 9mm pistol was tracked back to William Jackson, who apparently bought it from a gun store in Tennessee through legal means. When federal agents interrogated Jackson, he stated that he sold the gun in May 2013 in Atlanta.
The four-year investigation also led to the discovery of at least 17 packages with firearms concealed inside electronic devices. The packages were spread in a number of countries including Germany, the United Kingdom, Canada, Austria, the Netherlands, Belgium and France, Sweden and Belgium.
Each of the packages was sent through the mail from Georgia to customers who bought the firearms via the dark web through Black Market Reloaded, Agora and Utopia from various vendors.
The dark web vendors used various electronics to hide the illegal weapons including candy machines, stereo speakers and DVD players. The illegal firearms included Berettas, Glocks, a Scarab Skorpion and CobrayM-11s.
The investigations revealed that the suspects bought the guns in Georgia through direct purchases organized on an online classified service. The weapons were then sold for a profit, netting the suspects significant sums of money.
Johnson and Jackson were officially charged with selling firearms without a license and smuggling good from the United States to other countries. U.S. attorney John Horn stated that the two men banked on internet anonymity to bypass federal firearms laws.
The special agent in charge of the operation, Wayne Dixie, shared the same sentiments and added that the ATF was determined to combat illegal arms trafficking.
Two other individuals were implicated in the case are Brendan Person and Sherman Jackson. They had previously been indicted in May 2014 by a grand jury on a number of weapons charges.
Both men plead guilty. Gerren Johnson and William Jackson were arraigned before U.S. Magistrate Judge Justin Anand on May 30, 2017. Their bond was set at $10,000 and a pre-trial conference is scheduled for June 14.
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