ICE Agents Posed As Money Launderers to Bust Darknet Drug Dealers
The United States Department of Justice recently announced that federal law enforcement agents have filed charges against 90 people as the result of an undercover federal operation on the darknet. The undercover investigation was conducted by law enforcement agents from the United States Immigration and Customs Enforcementâs (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations branch. ICE is itself a branch of the Department of Homeland Security. During the investigation, agents from ICEâs Homeland Security Investigations posed as money launderers on several darknet markets. The Department of Homeland Security/ICEâs Homeland Security Investigations agents were assisted by other federal law enforcement agencies, including the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), the United States Postal Inspection Service (USPIS), and the United States Secret Service.
The Department of Justice has claimed in a press release that this operation had been the first nationwide undercover federal law enforcement investigation to be conducted targeting darknet market drug vendors. ICE, Homeland Security Investigations, and the Department of Homeland Security were all created shortly after the terrorist attacks of September 11th, 2001. Those agencies were created with the enactment of the Homeland Security Act of 2002. The Department of Homeland Security created ICE and Homeland Security Investigations when it took over and consolidated the law enforcement investigation and intelligence resources of the United States Immigration and Naturalization Services (INS) and the United States Customs Service and reorganized it under the new Homeland Security department.
The Department of Homeland Security and its divisions ICE and Homeland Security Investigations were granted the expansion, and many have argued unconstitutional, powers conferred to federal law enforcement agents under the USA PATRIOT Act. Many people assume that ICE and the Department of Homeland Security primarily enforce immigration and customs laws, but in fact these federal agencies also enforce general federal criminal statutes. They share concurrent jurisdiction with the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and the DEA for enforcing the Controlled Substances Act. Many, if not the majority, of the people charged in these over 90 federal criminal cases are American citizens. Federal law enforcement agents seized drugs and weapons as a result of the undercover investigation.
âThe Darknet is ever-changing and increasingly more intricate, making locating and targeting those selling illicit items on this platform more complicated. But in this case, HSI special agents were able to walk amongst those in the cyber underworld to find those vendors who sell highly addictive drugs for a profit. The veil has been lifted. HSI has infiltrated the Darknet, and together with its law enforcement partners nationwide, it has proven, once again, that every criminal is within armâs reach of the law,â Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) Acting Executive Associate Director Benner said in a press release issued by the Department of Justice.
Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein said in a press release that the Department of Justice will continue to expose and prosecute people for drug sales on the darknet and mentioned the 35 alleged darknet vendors have been arrested along with $23.6 million dollars in profits from darknet drug sales. The Deputy Attorney General also stated that he believes the arrests will reduce the supply of fentanyl, however, the investigation is highly unlikely to cause any significant reduction in the flow of fentanyl in the United States.
The 35 alleged darknet market vendors who have been arrested are accused of conducting tens of thousands of transactions. Federal law enforcement agents executed 70 search warrants which resulted in the discovery and seizure of 333 bottles of liquid opioids, over 100,000 tramadol pills, 100 grams of fentanyl, 24 kilograms of alprazolam (Xanax), as well as smaller quantities of oxycodone, MDMA, cocaine, LSD, marijuana, and psychedelic mushrooms were also discovered being grown at one residence which was raided. Over 100 firearms were also seized by federal law enforcement agents, including handguns, rifles, and a grenade launcher. Law enforcement also seized 5 vehicles, $3.6 million in cash and gold bullion, as well as over 20 million US Dollars worth of various cryptocurrencies, including over 2,000 Bitcoins. Also seized were 15 pill presses allegedly used to press fentanyl pills. Bitcoin mining devices, computer equipment, and a vacuum sealer were also seized.
Among the 35 people charged as a result of this investigation include Nicholas J. Powell and Michael Gonzalez, both of Ohio, are alleged to have been vendors on Silk Road 2, AlphaBay, and HANSA market, using the vendor names TheSource, BonnienClyde, BnC, BCPHARMA, and Money TS. Jose Robert Porras III and Pasia Vue, both of Sacramento, California, are accused of being vendors on Dream Market, Wall Street Market, and Trade Route. Daniel Boyd McMonegal of California, is accused of selling marijuana on various darknet markets using the vendor names Sawgrass, Ross4Less, and ChristmasTree.