US authorities have arrested three men after taking down a dark web drug ring which laundered $2.3 million in cryptocurrency.
Chester Anderson and co-conspirators Jarrette Codd, and Ronald Maccarty were indicted for operating storefronts on the dark web that sold and shipped hundreds of thousands of counterfeit Xanax tablets and other controlled substances to buyers across 43 US states.
As part of the crackdown, investigators seized “the largest quantity of pills in New Jersey State history,” including approximately 420,000 to 620,000 alprazolam tablets, as well as some 500 glassines of fentanyl-laced heroin and quantities of methamphetamine, ketamine and GHB.
The authorities also found four pill presses and two industrial mixers, alongside other drug manufacturing items, and thousands of dollars worth of cryptocurrency.
Anderson, Codd, and Maccarty are charged with conspiracy in the fourth and fifth degrees, as well as money laundering in the first degree. Anderson has also been charged with multiple counts of criminal sale of a controlled substance in the fourth and fifth degrees, and identity theft in the first degree.
“When our office received reports of suspicious activity at ATMs in New York and New Jersey, our talented investigators followed the money, using our state-of-the-art Cyber Lab to uncover a dark web counterfeit pill seller whose $2.3 million operation spanned the US,” said District Attorney Vance.
According to court documents, Anderson operated two dark web storefronts, using the screenname “sinmed,” to sell alprazolam and other controlled substances. Codd and Maccarty helped with manufacturing and equipment procurement.
Over the course of the operation, undercover investigators from Manhattan’s DA bought approximately 10,000 alprazolam tablets, in addition to ketamine and GHB, from the ‘sinmed’ storefronts.
Additionally, the Manhattan DA Cybercrime and Identity Theft Bureau identified over 1,000 packages that were sent by the defendants from New Jersey to locations across the country, and seized an additional 8,000 tablets by intercepting several of these.
The majority of packages had return addresses that falsely identified the sender as a Manhattan business, including multiple Manhattan law firms, and a real estate agency.
Anderson and Maccarty created a shell company, Next Level Research and Development, to buy over 1,000 kilograms of microcrystalline cellulose – the main ingredient used to make pharmaceutical tablets.
As part of the scheme, they also used Maccarty’s phone repair store, The Wireless Spot, to buy a pill press, a powder mixer, and “punch dies” used to imprint “Xanax” labels on the alprazolam pills.
All three defendants laundered more than $2.3 million in proceeds by using the Bitcoin they received as payment to load pre-paid debit cards, and collectively withdrew more than $1 million from ATMs in Manhattan and New Jersey.
It’s not the first time cryptocurrency has been used to fuel illicit dark web operations and it surely won’t be the last. But if this story proves anything it’s that US law enforcement is closely monitoring the web’s underworld, and it won’t do to simply use BTC as a way for criminals to cover their tracks.