US Department of Justice Announces 150 Arrests Worldwide for Illegal Drug Trafficking on the Dark Web

Deputy Attorney General Lisa Monaco said Tuesday that "dark web drug revenue has surpassed pre-Covid-19 epidemic levels, with most of those sales occurring on social media platforms."

The U.S. Department of Justice announced Tuesday that 150 people across three continents have been arrested and charged with drug trafficking and other illegal activities in a massive international law enforcement operation targeting illegal drug trafficking on the dark web.

Operation Dark HunTor was conducted in a collaborative effort by multinational agencies, including the FBI and its counterparts in Australia and Europe, targeting dark web drug dealers and other criminals in Australia, Bulgaria, France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Switzerland, the United Kingdom and across the United States.

The dark web is a part of the Internet that cannot be indexed by search engines and must be accessed through the use of special browsers. Sites selling illegal goods or services proliferate on the dark web because they are difficult for law enforcement to monitor.

The U.S. Justice Department and European police authorities said they arrested 150 people for buying and selling drugs and weapons on dark Web forums, using evidence from the world's largest illegal online marketplace that was taken down in January.

During the 10-month operation, law enforcement agencies seized more than $31.6 million in cash and virtual currency and about 234 kilograms of drugs, including amphetamines, cocaine, opioids and ecstasy, worldwide. Investigators also collected more than 200,000 ecstasy pills, fentanyl, oxycodone, hydrocodone and methamphetamine, the Justice Department said.

Jean-Philippe Lecouffe, deputy executive director of Europol, the European Union's law enforcement agency, said, "Through such operations, based on information sharing, trust between partners and international coordination, we are sending a strong message to these criminals on the dark web: no one escapes the law sanction, even on the dark web."

In announcing the operation Tuesday, Deputy Attorney General Lisa Monaco said 90 percent of the hundreds of thousands of pills seized in the United States alone contained dangerous counterfeit opioids and narcotics.

Monaco said, "We're here to expose those who are trying to use the shadow of the Internet to peddle killer pills around the world."

Officials said Operation Dark Hunter was the largest seizure in the history of joint law enforcement efforts by multinational agencies targeting opioid and dark web crimes, with 65 arrests in the United States alone, many of them charged with trafficking drugs containing 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 dark web to sell and mail mixtures of opioids to various jurisdictions, including Tennessee, sometimes falsely portraying dangerous narcotics as more conventional drugs and selling them to customers.

According to court documents, from April 2019 through February 2021, Texas men used the online nickname "CARDINGMASTER" to distribute pills containing methamphetamine disguised as Adderall in exchange for cryptocurrency. Some of the pills they mailed had the FDA-approved "AD" stamped on them and appeared to resemble drugs made by Teva Pharmaceuticals.

According to an FBI indictment, the men advertised Adderall on the Dark Web's Empire Marketplace. "Free Extra Pill Promotion with Superfast Shipping in the U.S.," the promotion read. Undercover DEA agents purchased the pills from the marketplace three times and found them to be orange like Adderall and with markings that appeared to match those on the prescription amphetamines. But DEA testing of the pills showed that they were not amphetamines, but methamphetamine, a Class II controlled substance.

Illegal activity on the dark web has only increased during the Covid-19 epidemic as more and more people use it to obtain drugs that, in many cases, contain dangerous and deadly substances.

"They are now operating in every room with a smartphone or computer, in every home with a smartphone or computer," said Administrator Anne Milgram, "and these are the drugs that are causing the overdose crisis in America."

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