Today, the Department of Justice, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s Homeland Security Investigations (HSI), the U.S. Postal Inspection Service (USPIS), Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), and the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) announced several arrests, charges and guilty pleas as a result of “Operation Darkness Falls,” a joint operation targeting people and organizations that sell fentanyl and other drugs over the dark net.
Attorney General Jeff Sessions was joined by U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Ohio Justin Herdman and other Justice Department officials in Cleveland today to make the announcement, which included, at the time of their arrest in April, the most prolific dark net fentanyl vendor in the United States and the fourth most prolific in the world—MH4Life.
Making the announcement, Attorney General Jeff Sessions said, “Today’s announcements are a warning to every trafficker, every crooked doctor or pharmacist, and every drug company, every chairman and foreign national and company that puts greed before the lives and health of the American people: this Justice Department will use civil and criminal penalties alike and we will find you, put you in jail, or make you pay.”
“The mechanics of drug dealing has changed, and law enforcement has changed with it,” U.S. Attorney Justin E. Herdman said. “These cases demonstrate that those who think they are hiding behind a cloak of anonymity on the dark net will be uncovered and brought to justice for selling the drugs killing our friends and neighbors.”
According to court documents, MH4Life—Matthew Roberts and Holly Roberts, both 35 and of San Antonio—were charged earlier this year with conspiracy to distribute controlled substances and other crimes.
The Roberts’ created and operated several dark net marketplace accounts, including MH4LIFE, TRAPPEDINTIME, FASTFORWARD and MRHIGH4LIFE. They operated these accounts on dark net marketplace websites including Dream Market, Silk Road, AlphaBay, Darknet Heroes League, Nucleus and several others.
They used these accounts between 2011 and May 12, 2018 to possess and distribute fentanyl, MethoxyAcetylFentanyl (MAF), other fentanyl analogues, heroin, cocaine, methamphetamine, MDMA, LSD, marijuana, Xanax, Oxycodone and other drugs.
The Roberts’ MH4LIFE vendor account on Dream Market had 2,800 verified transactions with a 4.89/5 rating as of May 2018. Dream listed that MH4LIFE had 500 verified transactions on the Agora marketplace and 719 transactions on the Nucleus marketplace. The only products listed for sale by MH4LIFE were illegal narcotics.
MH4LIFE had the highest number of verified transactions worldwide of any fentanyl vendor based upon a review of Dream Market.
The Roberts’ used private messaging, encryption software, Virtual Private Networks and proxies through the TOR network to provide security for the criminal organization. They used decoys, such as glow bracelets and other mundane items, to hide the fact they were mailing narcotics. They also purchased postage from third parties with cryptocurrency in an effort to conceal their activities.
Customers used digital currency to purchase narcotics, which the defendants sent to digital currency exchangers, where the funds were converted into official fiat currency and spent on person goods and services, as well as prepaid Visa and gift cards.
Their criminal case, filed in U.S. District Court in Cleveland, is pending.
Other cases charged as part of Operation “Darkness Falls” include:
DF44: Robert Kiessling was the third-largest fentanyl vendor in North America as of early this year, based on number of sales. Kiessling was arrested in coordination with the Royal Canadian Mounted Police in Canada. A search of his residence uncovered fentanyl and other narcotics tied to the dark net scheme. He was released on bond in Canada and committed suicide.
The Source, BonnieNClyde: Nick Powell is charged with being a Xanax distributor and dark net money launderer. Powell was arrested and agents seized $438,000 in Bitcoin. He has been charged in federal court in Cleveland with conspiracy to distribute controlled substances. The case is pending.
Dark King 22: Antoin Austin, of Euclid, recently pleaded guilty to operating a dark net fentanyl business from an apartment cohabitated with children and within a short distance from an elementary school. He is scheduled to be sentenced Nov. 5.
MotleyFool: James Halpin recently pleaded guilty to his role as a national dark net fentanyl vendor.
Panachecak: Ryan Kluth recently pleaded guilty to crimes involving fentanyl and child pornography via the dark net. His plea agreement calls for a sentence of approximately 10 years in prison.
“HSI and our partners are proud to be at the tip of the spear combating illicit activities and financial crimes on the dark net,” said Steve Francis, special agent in charge of HSI for Michigan and Ohio. “Criminals groups who continue to peddle their illegal contraband via the dark net are increasingly learning that they do not escape the reach of law enforcement.”
“Postal Inspectors and their law enforcement partners will spare no resource or expense to shine a light on the sale and distribution of illicit and dangerous items on the dark net, that serve to destroy the lives of many through addiction and despair,” said Postal Inspector in Charge Tommy Coke. “Our law enforcement partnership and operation sends a strong message to those who choose this illegal path, we are watching and will bring you to justice for your crimes against the American public.”
FBI Special Agent in Charge Stephen D. Anthony said: “Criminals who think they can use the dark net and cryptocurrencies to hide their actions are wrong, we will continue to work with, and leverage the capabilities of, our partner agencies. The FBI is proud to have partnered with Postal Inspection, HSI and others to identify and disrupt this criminal organization.”
These cases are the result of a joint investigation involving Homeland Security Investigations, U.S Postal Inspection Service, the FBI and the Internal Revenue Service – Criminal Investigations. Federal agents around the country, including in the Western District of Texas, Western District of Pennsylvania, Middle District of Florida and elsewhere, have assisted in the ongoing operation.
These cases are being prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorney Matthew J. Cronin and Daniel J. Riedl.
If convicted, a defendant’s sentence will be determined by the Court after review of factors unique to the case, including the defendant’s prior criminal record, if any, the defendant’s role in the offense and the characteristics of the violations. In all cases, the sentence will not exceed the statutory maximum and, in most cases, it will be less than the maximum.
An indictment is only a charge and is not evidence of guilt. A defendant is entitled to a fair trial in which it will be the government’s burden to prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.