Cryptocurrency Fraud , Cybercrime , Forensics

179 Arrested in Darknet Market Crackdown

Authorities Seize Virtual Currency, Drugs, Firearms
179 Arrested in Darknet Market Crackdown
As part of "Operation DisrupTor," law enforcement officials seized methamphetamine and other drugs. (Photo: FBI)

An international coalition of police agencies on Tuesday made 179 arrests and seized virtual currency, cash and drugs based on intelligence gathered from earlier takedowns of the Wall Street and AlphaBay darknet marketplaces, according to Europol and the U.S. Justice Department.

The operation, dubbed "DisrupTor," resulted in arrests in six countries plus the seizing of $6.5 million in virtual currency and cash, 64 firearms and 500 kilograms of fentanyl, oxycodone, hydrocodone, methamphetamine, heroin, cocaine, ecstasy and MDMA, Europol reports.

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The U.S. Justice Department says data gleaned after the 2019 Wall Street Market and 2017 AlphaBay forum takedowns was used to help track down those arrested Tuesday. "Darknet vendor accounts were identified and attributed to real individuals selling illicit goods on darknet market sites such as AlphaBay, Dream Nightmare, Empire, White House, DeepSea, Dark Market and others," according to the Justice Department.

A darknet or dark web market site refers to .onion websites that can only be reached by using the anonymizing Tor browser.

No Safe Haven?

"The arrest of 179 in seven countries - with the seizure of their drug supplies and their money as well - shows that there will be no safe haven for drug dealing in cyberspace," says Deputy Attorney General Jeffrey Rosen.

But one possible outcome of these law enforcement operations is that darknet marketplace administrators may begin to take cybersecurity more seriously to protect themselves and their customers, says Kacey Clark, threat researcher at the digital risk protection firm Digital Shadows.

"Darknet vendors will still need to advertise to an open platform to acquire as many buyers as they can,” she says. “Recent law enforcement takedowns may force vendors to use markets that enable additional security features, such as PGP encryption, two-factor authentication and the use of monero to avoid tracking.” (See: Why Darknet Markets Persist).

The Arrests

Operation DisrupTor led to 121 arrests in the U.S., two in Canada, 42 in Germany, eight in the Netherlands, four in the U.K., three in Austria and one in Sweden, according to the Justice Department. Several investigations to identify the individuals behind other dark web accounts are continuing.

The Justice Department offered some examples of charges, including:

  • William Anderson Burgamy of Hanover, Maryland, and Hyrum T. Wilson, 41, of Auburn, Nebraska, pleaded guilty to charges related to a conspiracy to use explosives to firebomb and destroy a competitor pharmacy in Nebraska.
  • Aaron Brewer of Corsicana, Texas, was charged with conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute a controlled substance and distribution of a controlled substance for allegedly selling cocaine, heroin and other drugs on the darknet. He allegedly accepted payment in cryptocurrency.
  • Arden McCann of Quebec, Canada, was charged with conspiring to import drugs into the United States and money laundering conspiracy.

Earlier this month, Bryan Connor Herrell, 26, a former AlphaBay market moderator, was sentenced to 11 years in prison after pleading guilty to a federal racketeering charge (see: AlphaBay Moderator Sentenced to 11 Years in Prison).

About the Author

Doug Olenick

Doug Olenick

Former News Editor, ISMG

Olenick has covered the cybersecurity and computer technology sectors for more than 25 years. Prior to his stint as ISMG as news editor, Olenick was online editor for SC Media, where he covered every aspect of the cybersecurity industry and managed the brand's online presence. Earlier, he worked at TWICE - This Week in Consumer Electronics - for 15 years. He also has contributed to, TheStreet and Mainstreet.

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