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Two Parma men, Nicholas J. Powell, 32, and Michael Gonzales 27, have been arrested for running an illegal online drug trade. They were arrested with other drug vendors in a recent nationwide darknet drug raid by the US authorities. In a statement released by the Department of Justice, the duo illegally distributed drugs on the darknet marketplace and found ways to launder money through three different cryptocurrencies namely: Komodo, Bitcoin, and Ethereum. After the arrest of Powell, authorities confiscated a sum of $437,000 in cryptocurrencies from him.
According to a report, Powell and Gonzales face charges of money laundering and distributing drugs using the online black market. The history of their operation was traced to three of the most popular darknet marketplaces known as the Silk Road 2, Alphabay market and the Hansa market. The Alphabay and the Hansa Markets were taken down by the Europol in 2017 for being breeding grounds of crime. The stores set up by the duo offered various kinds of drugs including Xanax, steroids, and Marijuana to customers. Using one of the most effective ways, the Homeland Security posed as Darknet vendors to conduct investigations which led to the arrest of over 35 drug vendors.
The Nationwide Raid
As part of the strategy to hunt down illegal drug distributors, authorities conducted an intensive search into the execution of 70 search warrants. The search led to the seizure of about 100 firearms. Short guns, assault rifles, and grenades were seized. An investigation revealed that the proceeds of their illegal activities were used to purchase vehicles of which five were confiscated. Authorities also seized 100,000 pills of tramadol, 24 kilograms of fentanyl, and 100 grams of Xanax. Aside from these, a bunch of Oxycodone, MDMA, cocaine, LSD, marijuana and other kinds of drugs were seized. Also, 15 pill presses, mining equipment, computer equipment, 2,000 bitcoins and other cryptocurrencies worth $20 million were confiscated.
Including those arrested in the raid were Antonio Tirado, 26, and Jeffrey Morales, 32. They were charged with possessing narcotics with the intent to distribute. An additional charge of firearm trafficking was labeled against Antonio Tirado. Also, Pasia Vue, 23, and Jose Robert Porras III, 21, were arrested and charged with the illegal possession of a firearm, drug distribution, and money laundering. Authorities have hinted that this exercise will not end here as it will be a consistent operation.
The joint operation involving a number of agencies including the Drug Enforcement agency, Secret Service, the Postal Inspection Service and the Homeland security was meant to reduce the high influx of fentanyl drugs into the country through the dark web. The Deputy Attorney General Rosenstein said that dealers who think they are safe on the dark web are wrong. In the press release from the Department of Justice, it was stated that the announcement is meant for people who engage in the activities of endangering lives through the distribution of illegal drugs.
According to the HSI Executive Associate Director Benner, this operation has proven that no criminal is beyond the reach of the law: “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 arm’s reach of the law.” The USA has been one of the many nations that suffers from drug overdose death in the recent years. Utah, for instance, recorded a 78 percent rise in fentanyl overdose death in 2017. As a measure to deal with this crisis, authorities have resorted to going undercover on the dark web to investigate the people who facilitate this activity.
During the investigation, authorities discovered about 50 accounts on the darknet linked to the individuals who operated on the most famous darknet marketplaces including Hansa, Alphabay, Silk Road and few others. Also, 65 targets were identified by the undercover investigators. The targets have been said to be from 50 federal districts, and are being investigated. DEA Special Agent in Charge Hunt said that the darknet attracts criminals into the various homes and facilitates illegal commerce. This explains why the law enforcement has made efforts to identify all individuals involved.