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A former darknet vendor recently started serving his prison sentence for his role in a cocaine and heroin trafficking operation. Chaudhry Ahmad Farooq, a 25-year-old Pakistani national, worked alongside 33-year-old Abdullah Almashwali in Brooklyn, New York, to ship drugs across the United States through the United States Postal Service. Almashwali received his prison sentence in July 2017 and Farooq got his earlier this year.
At his July sentencing hearing, the judge handed Almashwali a much lengthier sentence than Farooq received in 2018. Almashwali, with a six year sentence, will stay in the high security USP Canaan until late April 2022. Farooq, on the other hand will sit in the privately contracted Moshannon Valley Correctional Center until June 2019. The significantly different sentences matched the roles played by Almashwali and Farooq.
According to the court documents filed by agents during the federal investigation into the duo’s drug operation, federal agents first noticed and connected Farooq to the trafficking conspiracy. The court documents revealed that throughout the investigation, investigators found that Farooq made more trips to and from the post office than any other recognizable criminal behavior.
Although the courts attributed the vendor accounts ‘DarkApollo’ and ‘Area51’ to both Almashwali and Farooq, court documents acknowledged that Almashwali effectively owned the accounts and controlled the front end of the operation. In the case, he controlled the interactions with customers and arrangements with suppliers. Farooq, for the most part, made supply runs, filled the orders passed down to him from Almashwali, and picked up packages of heroin, cocaine, and other substances intended for resale.
In what seemed likely an unusual twist, Almashwali—not Farooq—filled and shipped the packages that federal authorities in California had ordered in an undercover capacity. Authorities in New York managed to track the orders back to Almashwali through financial records at the Post Office; Almashwali had used his personal information to purchase postage. Farooq, however, indirectly leaked his identity through the DarkApollo vendor account PGP key. He added his personal email address to the key and seemingly never noticed. (He also sold drugs on the darknet for a surprisingly long time after effectively signing his name to every drug transaction filled by DarkApollo.
His PGP key contained an email address that Farooq had used to sign up for Twitter, Instagram, and other social networks. Investigators, once they had his information from Twitter, matched his name and picture to a Facebook account under the same name. The investigation basically started and ended with the email address. But for conspiracy to distribute heroin, Farooq will spend the next 23 months in prison.