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Authorities on 3 Continents Crack Down on Dark Web Drug Sales

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Esat Özcan –

Law enforcement agencies on three continents have disrupted a global drug trafficking operation on the dark web, resulting in the arrests of more than 150 people and the seizure of $31.6 million in cash and virtual currencies and substantial quantities of opioids and other drugs, the Justice Department said on Tuesday.

The results of the sting, called Operation Dark HunTor, followed the takedown in January of DarkMarket, at the time the world’s largest online marketplace for illicit goods, located in an encrypted and relatively hidden corner of the internet.

When German authorities arrested DarkMarket’s alleged operator and seized the site’s infrastructure, they recovered a trove of evidence that they subsequently provided to dozens of law enforcement teams across the world for follow-up investigations.

Over the last 10 months, the F.B.I. and other international law enforcement agencies used the information from DarkMarket to identify drug vendors and buyers who had sold drugs, weapons and other illicit services across Australia, Bulgaria, France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Switzerland, Britain and the United States.

They were able to match vendor accounts to individuals selling illicit goods on other marketplaces, some still active and some not.

Authorities seized amphetamines, cocaine, opioids, MDMA and several other drugs and counterfeit medicines, as well as 45 firearms.

The results of the operation “send one clear message to those hiding on the dark net peddling illegal drugs: There is no dark internet,” Deputy Attorney General Lisa O. Monaco said in a statement. “We can and we will shine a light.”

As part of the announcement on Tuesday, the Justice Department unsealed indictments against nearly a dozen defendants in California, New York, Tennessee, Virginia and Washington State who were accused of selling illicit goods on the dark internet, money laundering and other crimes.

Ms. Monaco said that investigators had looked for people who had used the dark internet to sell illicit drugs and drugmaking equipment that had helped fuel America’s opioid crisis. Prosecutors targeted people who had operated home laboratories to manufacture fake prescription pain drugs that contained fentanyl, methamphetamine and other illegal, lethal drugs.

Italian authorities also shut down two more dark web marketplaces where more than 40,000 advertisements for illegal products had been posted. Authorities then arrested four people accused of running the sites and seized cryptocurrencies worth more than $4 million.

The U.S. operation was undertaken by the Joint Criminal Opioid and Darknet Enforcement team, an F.B.I.-led initiative created in 2018 to disrupt and dismantle the online sale of illicit drugs, weapons and other illegal services.

U.S. officials said on Tuesday that a number of investigations were underway and that federal prosecutions were being conducted in more than 15 districts in California, Florida, Massachusetts, Nebraska, Nevada, New York, Ohio, Texas, Virginia, Rhode Island, Tennessee, Washington State and Washington, D.C.

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