Worldwide sting of “dark web” nets 150 suspects

Washington – One hundred and fifty people across three continents have been arrested and charged with drug trafficking and other illicit activity in a sweeping international law enforcement initiative targeting the illegal trafficking of drugs on the Darknet, the Justice Department announced Tuesday.

Operation Dark HunTor, a collaborative effort across multinational agencies including the FBI and its counterparts in Australia and Europe, targeted Darknet drug traffickers and other criminals throughout Australia, Bulgaria, France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Switzerland, the United Kingdom, and the U.S.

The Darknet is a part of the internet that cannot be indexed by search engines and must be accessed through the use of special browsers. Because it’s difficult for law enforcement to monitor, websites that sell illicit items or services proliferate on the Darknet.

Law enforcement agencies seized over $31.6 million in cash and virtual currencies and approximately 234 kilograms of drugs worldwide, including  amphetamines, cocaine, opioids and MDMA during the 10-month-long operation. The Justice Department said investigators also collected more than 200,000 pills of ecstasy, fentanyl, oxycodone, hydrocodone, and methamphetamine.

Of the hundreds of thousands of pills seized in the U.S. alone, 90% contained dangerous counterfeit opioids and narcotics, Deputy Attorney General Lisa Monaco said Tuesday, when she announced the operation.

“We are here to expose those who seek to use the shadows of their internet to peddle killer pills worldwide,” Monaco said.

Operation Dark HunTor, which officials say is the largest seizure in the multinational Joint Criminal Opioid and Darknet Enforcement’s history, led to the arrest of 65 individuals in the U.S. alone, many of whom were charged with trafficking drugs laced with illicit and dangerous substances.

Texas residents Kevin Olando Ombisi and Eric Bernard Russell Jr are charged in a 10-count indictment with selling counterfeit drugs, distributing controlled substances, and money laundering. They are accused of using the Darkweb to sell and mail the mixture of opioids to various jurisdictions including Tennessee, at times falsely misrepresenting the dangerous narcotics as the more conventional drugs and selling them to customers.

According to court documents, from April 2019 to February 2021, the Texas men used the online moniker “CARDINGMASTER” to distribute pills containing methamphetamine disguised as Adderall in exchange for cryptocurrency. Some of the pills they mailed were embossed with the FDA-recognized “AD” to resemble the drug manufactured by Teva pharmaceuticals. 

The men had run ads for Adderall on the Darknet’s Empire Market, according to an FBI affidavit. “USA SUPER FAST SHIPPING *FREE EXTRA PILLS PROMO*,” the promotions read. Undercover DEA agents made purchases from the marketplace three times and found that the pills, like Adderall, were orange and bore markings that seemed to match those found on prescription-based amphetamines. But DEA testing of the pills revealed that they were not amphetamines, but instead were methamphetamines, a Schedule II controlled substance, the February affadavit said.

Illicit activity on the Darkweb has only increased during the pandemic as more individuals use it to access drugs that in many cases contain dangerous levels of lethal substances.

“They now operate in every single room, in every home that has a smartphone or a computer,”  Administrator Anne Milgram said, “These are the drugs that are driving the overdose crisis in America.”

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