Former darknet vendor Elias Valentin Smith successfully appealed his two-year prison sentence at the High Court at Auckland. Law enforcement in New Zealand, during Operation Tiger, arrested Smith and charged him with 14 drug charges linked to the importation and redistribution of drugs on the darknet. The High Court judge granted the appeal and changed Smith’s sentence to home detention for 11 months.
The police began their investigation in late 2015 following several package interceptions. The packages intercepted during the start of the operation contained—for the most part—small quantities of LSD blotters. Many media outlets followed the story closely due to several unique elements. The investigation that ended Smith’s drug distribution conspiracy fell under the umbrella of the highly publicized “Operation Tiger.”
Operation Tiger targeted drug users and dealers far younger than the average suspect; Smith, at the time of his 2016 arrest, had only recently turned 19. His yearbook pictures from the year prior showed the teenager with what the NZHerald described as a teenager with a “baby face.” His accomplices, too, still attended high school. So were the local buyers. Despite the young age of the dealer and his partners, Smith ran a fairly smooth operation and built a sizeable stack of cash (and Bitcoin) while running his network. The media’s focus did not end with the ages, though.
Smith and his primary accomplice, Nicholas Michael Barker, both operated from within their family homes and seemingly avoided any suspicion from their parents. The media, of course, rolled with the development and warned parents to “make sure they blocked their children from using Tor,” and spread stories that explained the dangers of the darknet and how easily “children as young as 13 could access drugs on the darknet. The case was a media gold mine. One 16-year-old stood out for purchasing almost 400 grams of marijuana from the darknet.
In order to start receiving more packages, Smith recruited Barker for $200 per received package. He may have enlisted additional teenagers, but New Zealand customs admitted they had no clue how many packages of drugs had slipped through the international mail stream and into the hands of high school teens. Authorities had learned that a large number of “wealthy” teenagers started importing drugs from the darknet, as revealed in one press release. They simply failed to connect dots between Smith and other darknet drug recipients.
Part of the best roadblock in the back investigation came from Smith’s refusal to cooperate with NZ authorities with respect to anything beyond his own role. A role that he pleaded guilty to in an effort to receive a major reduction in the prison sentence he faced. Packages delivered to other high school students proved less than important when the police arrested Smith and made no difference in the courtroom either. The packages sent to Barker led the police directly to Smith.
In June 2016, Customs intercepted a package of amphetamine sulphate destined for Barker’s address. Although not one publicly noticeable action had been taken in June, the police had started building a case that led to Smith’s downfall. Months later, Customs intercepted another package. The package, also destined for Barker’s house, contained more than 700 tabs of acid and a sheet of blotters that contained fentanyl. The police then raided Barker’s home.
Barker’s room contained a substantial number of LSD blotters but seemingly proved insignificant otherwise. Smith’s room, though, proved otherwise. NZ authorities raided the Smith family home the same day they raided the Barker household. Smith’s parents, both reportedly shocked by the events unfolding in front of them, watched as the police tore apart their then-teenage son’s bedroom. The police found methamphetamine, scales, packaging material, and other items usually located at similar crime scenes.
Officials arrested Smith and charged him with 14 drug importation and distribution crimes. He refused to give police any information concerning his operation. Auckland District Court Judge Russell Collins sentenced Smith to a mere two years and three months imprisonment. Despite the various sentence reductions Smith received for his status as a minor, his guilty plea, his “personal circumstances,” and his efforts at rehabilitation, Smith felt the sentence was too harsh a penalty for someone who never sold drugs as a source of revenue.
The new 11-month home detention sentence requires Smith to allow authorities to routinely search his electronic devices for any evidence of “darknet activity.” Justice Pheroze Jagose, with the belief that the initial sentence poorly reflected the crimes or possibly out of sympathy for the parents, issued the new sentence. Out of the hundreds of darknet drug distribution cases covered by DeepDotWeb, this case very likely ended with the shortest sentence ever passed down to a drug dealer at Smith’s scale of offense.