Second Defendant Pleads Guilty to Distributing Heroin and Cocaine on Dark Web Marketplace Alphabay
FRESNO, Calif. — Abudullah Almashwali, 31, a Yemeni national formerly residing in Brooklyn, New York, pleaded guilty today to distribution of heroin and cocaine, and conspiracy, U.S. Attorney Phillip A. Talbert announced.
According to court documents, Almashwali and co-defendant Chaudhry Ahmad Farooq, 24, a Pakistani national residing in Brooklyn, New York, using the vendor names “Area51” and “DarkApollo,” were large-scale heroin and cocaine distributors on the dark web marketplace AlphaBay. Dark web marketplaces are operated on computer networks designed to conceal the true Internet Protocol (IP) address of the computers accessing the network. Dark web marketplaces allow for payments to be made only in the form of digital currency, most commonly Bitcoin. While not inherently illegal, digital currency is used by dark web marketplaces because online transactions in digital currency can be completed without a third-party payment processor and are therefore perceived to be more anonymous and less vulnerable to law enforcement scrutiny.
According to the criminal complaint, Almashwali and Farooq accepted orders for heroin and cocaine on AlphaBay, and then mailed the narcotics from post offices in New York to customers throughout the United States. They received payment in Bitcoin. In May 2016, law enforcement made two undercover purchases of heroin from “Area51,” which were delivered to a post office box in the Eastern District of California. Postal records revealed that Almashwali purchased the postage for the two heroin parcels mailed to law enforcement, and that Farooq was involved in other mailings. Law enforcement agents were also able to determine that the encrypted email address used by “Area51” and “DarkApollo” was associated with actual Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook accounts used by Farooq.
On January 17, 2017, Farooq pleaded guilty to conspiring to traffic heroin. According to the plea agreement, Farooq admitted to selling 636.5 grams of heroin on the dark web marketplace Alpha Bay in exchange for $145,807 in Bitcoin.
This case is a product of an investigation by the Drug Enforcement Administration, with assistance provided by the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI), the IRS Criminal Investigation, and the U.S. Postal Inspection Service. Assistant U.S. Attorneys Grant B. Rabenn and Ross Pearson are prosecuting the case.
This case is part of an Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Force (OCDETF). The OCDETF program was established in 1982 to conduct comprehensive, multilevel attacks on major drug trafficking and money laundering organizations. The principal mission of the OCDETF program is to identify, disrupt, and dismantle the most serious drug trafficking and money laundering organizations and those primarily responsible for the nation’s drug supply.
U.S. District Judge Dale A. Drozd is scheduled to sentence Almashwali on July 24, 2017, at 1:30 p.m. and Farooq on May 15, 2017. Almashwali and Farooq face a maximum statutory penalty of 20 years in prison and a $1 million fine. The actual sentence, however, will be determined at the discretion of the court after consideration of any applicable statutory factors and the Federal Sentencing Guidelines, which take into account a number of variables.