ATLANTA -- An international investigation has led to the shut down of the largest "Dark Net" market in the world - and the identification of an Atlanta suspect with ties to the illegal operation.
The Federal Bureau of Investigation Atlanta office and the U.S. Attorney's Office of the Northern District of Georgia confirmed that they had identified a staffer for AlphaBay as part of a massive concerted effort between governments to shut the organization down.
Authorities said the investigation into the unnamed staffer is ongoing, but an announcement on Thursday says that the massive online hidden market is no more.
Dark Markets are used to illegally buy and sell items under a presumed air of anonymity through a portion of the internet known as the Dark Web. However, federal authorities had a warning for those behind such sites and those using them after AlphaBay's demise.
“The so-called anonymity of the dark web is illusory,” said Acting Administrator Chuck Rosenberg of the Drug Enforcement Administration. “We will find and prosecute drug traffickers who set up shop there, and this case is a great example of our commitment to doing exactly that.”
That's already been proven through recent indictments around the U.S. connected to various drugs including fentanyl and heroin.
According to a complaint affidavit filed in the District of South Carolina against Theodore Vitality Khleborod and Ana Milena Barrero, an investigation into an overdose death on Feb. 16 in Portland, Ore., involving U-47700, a synthetic opioid, revealed that the drugs were purchased on AlphaBay from Khelborod and Barrero.
Another complaint affidavit filed in the Middle District of Florida against Jeremy Achey says that an investigation into a fentanyl overdose death in Orange County, Fla. on Feb. 27 revealed that the lethal substance was also purchased on AlphaBay from Achey.
AlphaBay itself operated for more than 2 years and eclipsed the previous titleholder for the largest online illegal market, Silk Road, which was shut down in 2013.
Silk Road had about 14,000 listings for illicit goods when it was shut down. By contrast, AlphaBay had more than 250,000 listings for illegal drugs and toxic chemicals and more than 100,000 listings for stolen and fake identification documents, counterfeit goods, malware, hacking tools firearms and fraudulent services.
“This is likely one of the most important criminal investigations of the year – taking down the largest dark net marketplace in history,” said Attorney General Jeff Sessions. “Make no mistake, the forces of law and justice face a new challenge from the criminals and transnational criminal organizations who think they can commit their crimes with impunity using the dark net. The dark net is not a place to hide."
In addition to the Atlanta side of the investigation, the Justice Department, working with law enforcement authorities in Thailand, the Netherlands, Lithuania, Canada, the United Kingdom and France managed to track down Alexandre Cazes, AlphaBay's creator, who also went by Alpha02. The Canadian citizen was apprehended in Thailand on July 5 but officials believe he committed suicide while in custody.
Cazes was charged in an indictment with one count of conspiracy to engage in racketeering, one count of conspiracy to distribute narcotics, six counts of distribution of narcotics, one count of conspiracy to commit identity theft, four counts of unlawful transfer of false identification documents, one count of conspiracy to commit access device fraud, one count of trafficking in device making equipment, and one count of money laundering conspiracy.
A civil forfeiture complaint has also been filed against Cazes and his wife over assets across the globe including those in Thailand, Cyprus, Lichtenstein and Antigua & Barbuda. Those forfeitures include luxury cars, residences and a hotel in Thailand as well as millions of dollars in crypto-currency.