SAN FRANCISCO (CBS SF) — The Justice Department Thursday announced the seizure of the largest criminal marketplace on the internet, AlphaBay, which operated for over two years on the dark web and was used to sell among other items deadly illegal drugs including fentanyl and heroin throughout the world.
The bust — led by federal agents in California — was done with the help of authorities in Thailand, the Netherlands, Lithuania, Canada, the United Kingdom, and France as well as the European law enforcement agency Europol.
“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.”
Alexandre Cazes — aka Alpha02 and Admin — was been taken into custody in Thailand on July 5th and subsequently committed suicide while in custody.
Cazes was charged in an indictment filed in the Eastern District of California 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.
Law enforcement authorities in the United States have worked with numerous foreign partners to freeze and preserve millions of dollars’ worth of cryptocurrencies that were the subject of forfeiture counts in the indictment and that represent the proceeds of the AlphaBay organization’s illegal activities.
On Wednesday, the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of California filed a civil forfeiture complaint against Cazes and his wife’s assets located throughout the world including in Thailand, Cyprus, Lichtenstein, and Antigua & Barbuda.
Federal authorities said Cazes and his wife had amassed numerous high value assets including luxury vehicles, residences and a hotel in Thailand. Cazes also possessed millions of dollars in cryptocurrency, which has been seized by the FBI and the Drug Enforcement Administration.
According to publicly available information on AlphaBay prior to its takedown, one AlphaBay staff member claimed that it serviced over 200,000 users and 40,000 vendors.
At the time of takedown, there were over 250,000 listings for illegal drugs and toxic chemicals on AlphaBay, and over 100,000 listings for stolen and fraudulent identification documents and access devices, counterfeit goods, malware and other computer hacking tools, firearms, and fraudulent services.
Comparatively, the Silk Road dark web marketplace, which was seized by law enforcement in November 2013, had reportedly approximately 14,000 listings for illicit goods and services at the time of seizure and was the largest dark web marketplace at the time.
“AlphaBay was the world’s largest underground marketplace of the dark net, providing an avenue for criminals to conduct business anonymously and without repercussions,” said Chief Don Fort of IRS-CI.
The Department will continue to find, arrest, prosecute, convict, and incarcerate criminals, drug traffickers and their enablers wherever they are. We will use every tool we have to stop criminals from exploiting vulnerable people and sending so many Americans to an early grave. I believe that because of this operation, the American people are safer – safer from the threat of identity fraud and malware, and safer from deadly drugs.”
“The so-called anonymity of the dark web is illusory,” said Acting Administrator Chuck Rosenberg of the DEA. “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. More to come.”
The investigation into AlphaBay revealed that numerous vendors sold fentanyl and heroin, and there have been multiple overdose deaths across the country attributed to purchases on the site.
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 February 16 in Portland involving U-47700, a synthetic opioid, revealed that the drugs were purchased on AlphaBay from Khelborod and Barrero.
According to another complaint affidavit filed in the Middle District of Florida against Jeremy Achey, an investigation into a fentanyl overdose death in Orange County, Florida, on February 27 revealed that the lethal substance was purchased on AlphaBay from Achey.
The operation to seize the AlphaBay site coincides with efforts by Dutch law enforcement to investigate and take down the Hansa Market, another prominent dark web market.