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Federal agents peer into Darknet, find criminals

By MARK HAYWARD
New Hampshire Union Leader

July 09. 2018 7:31AM




Posing as internet money launderers, federal undercover agents plied the notorious Darknet and ended up with 35 arrests of alleged vendors, most lured by the opportunity to exchange crypto-currency such as Bitcoin for U.S. currency, federal prosecutors announced recently.

Across the country, federal agents raided 70 locations and seized 100 grams of fentanyl, 333 bottles of liquid synthetic opioids, 24 kilograms of Xanax, 100 firearms, $36 million in U.S. currency, and nearly 4,000 Bitcoins and other crypto-currencies valued at more than $20 million, federal prosecutors said in a statement.

The U.S. Justice Department said it was the first nationwide undercover operation to target vendors of illegal product on the Darknet.

Made famous by data breach of the spousal cheating site Ashley Madison and drug-selling sites such as Silk Road, the Darknet is a collection of websites on an encrypted network that cannot by accessed by traditional search engines or browsers, according to an article on a British website TechAdvisor.

Encryption tools hide both the identity and activity of visitors.

“Criminals who think that they are safe on the Darknet are wrong,” said Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein. “We can expose their networks, and we are determined to bring them to justice.”

The Darknet marketplaces include Silk Road 2, AlphaBay, Trade Route and Dream Marketplace.

The investigation reached into northern New England, where authorities arrested Vermont relatives who allegedly shipped LSD, cocaine and other drugs from post offices in eastern Vermont and northwestern New Hampshire.

According to the federal prosecutors, Sam Bent, 32, and his cousin Djeneba Bent, 26, both of St. Johnsbury, Vt., were charged with conspiracy to distribute LSD, MDMA, cocaine and marijuana. The two allegedly set up accounts on unspecified Darkweb sites and accepted Bitcoin.

Sam Bent also faces four money-laundering charges. A federal grand jury sitting in Vermont issued indictments against the Bents.

No indictments have been issued out of U.S. District Court in New Hampshire, according to a spokesman for U.S. Attorney Scott Murray. But prosecutors say the investigation is on-going.

“The Darknet is ever-changing and increasingly more intricate, making locating and targeting those selling items on this platform more complicated,” said Derek Benner, executive associate director of Homeland Security Investigations. But he said investigators were able to “walk amongst those in the cyber underworld”to find vendors who sell highly addictive drugs for profit.

The operation was run by the New York field division of the U.S. Immigration and Custom Enforcement’s Homeland Security Investigations office.

Outside New York City, agents found 140 kilograms of marijuana, 10 kilograms of suspected marijuana vape cartridges, 12 kilograms of Xanax pills and $140,000 in cash.

In Maryland, they seized nearly 4,000 Bitcoin.

In California, alleged vendors of marijuana, methamphetamine and Xanax transferred Bitcoin to the undercover agents, who mailed them parcels of cash, and then arrested them.

mhayward@unionleader.com


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