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Press Release

Owners of “Empire Market” Charged in Chicago With Operating $430 Million Dark Web Marketplace

For Immediate Release
U.S. Attorney's Office, Northern District of Illinois

CHICAGO — Two men have been charged in federal court in Chicago with operating “Empire Market,” a dark web marketplace that enabled users to anonymously buy and sell more than $430 million in illegal goods and services around the world.

THOMAS PAVEY, also known as “Dopenugget,” 38, of Ormond Beach, Fla., and RAHEIM HAMILTON, also known as “Sydney” and “Zero Angel,” 28, of Suffolk, Va., owned and operated Empire Market from 2018 to 2020, during which time they facilitated approximately four million transactions between vendors and buyers valued at more than $430 million, according to a superseding indictment returned Thursday in U.S. District Court in Chicago.  The indictment charges Pavey and Hamilton with conspiring with each other and others to engage in drug trafficking, computer fraud, access device fraud, counterfeiting, and money laundering.  The charges in the superseding indictment are punishable by a maximum sentence of life in federal prison.

Pavey and Hamilton are in U.S. law enforcement custody.  Arraignments in federal court in Chicago have not yet been scheduled.

The superseding indictment was announced by Morris Pasqual, Acting United States Attorney for the Northern District of Illinois, Robert W. “Wes” Wheeler, Jr., Special Agent-in-Charge of the Chicago Field Office of the FBI, Ruth Mendonça, Inspector-in-Charge of the Chicago Division of the U.S. Postal Inspection Service, and Ivan J. Arvelo, Special Agent-in-Charge of the New York office of Homeland Security Investigations.  The government is represented by Assistant U.S. Attorneys Melody Wells and Ann Marie Ursini.

According to the charges, Pavey and Hamilton previously worked together to advertise and sell counterfeit U.S. currency on AlphaBay, a dark web marketplace for illicit goods that was shut down in 2017.  They began operating Empire Market on Feb. 1, 2018, the indictment states.  Thousands of vendors and buyers accessed Empire Market through a specialized anonymizing software and the site’s address, which ended in “.onion.”  Vendors on Empire Market offered to sell various illicit goods and services, including controlled substances such as heroin, methamphetamine, cocaine, and LSD, as well as counterfeit currency and stolen credit card information, the indictment states.  Buyers could browse the available goods and services by category, including “Fraud,” “Drugs & Chemicals,” “Counterfeit Items,” and “Software & Malware,” among others, the indictment states.  After transactions were completed using cryptocurrency, buyers could review and rate their purchases on multiple criteria, including “stealth,” the indictment states.

During the investigation, federal law enforcement seized cryptocurrency valued at $75 million at the time of the seizures, as well as cash and precious metals.

The public is reminded that an indictment is not evidence of guilt.  The defendants are presumed innocent and entitled to a fair trial at which the government has the burden of proving guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.

Updated June 14, 2024

Drug Trafficking
Identity Theft
National Security