Federal prosecutors have announced that three men have been charged with laundering money and distributing illegal drugs on a website that hid its activities on what is known as the dark net. Federal authorities worked with law enforcement agencies in Germany and other countries during the investigation according to a press release from the U.S. Attorney's Office for the Central District of California. The three men apprehended are all German nationals and face additional charges in their home country.
The website is said to have concealed its activities by using the encrypted Tor network and accepting payment in cryptocurrencies like Monero and Bitcoin. Prosecutors say that visitors to the site were able to purchase drugs including cocaine, heroin, methamphetamine, and marijuana. The website also allegedly traded in stolen personal data and malicious software. Media reports suggest that the scheme was a profitable one as the men are alleged to have earned about $11 million from sales made on the website.
A fourth individual who authorities say acted as the website's moderator has been taken into custody by police in Brazil. The 29-year-old man is also facing money laundering and drug charges. His duties are said to have included settling disputes between buyers and sellers on the site.
Cases involving multiple defendants give prosecutors a great deal of leverage. Individuals facing long periods of incarceration may be offered more lenient treatment if they cooperate and provide information that could be used against their co-defendants. However, these offers tend to become far less generous once prosecutors feel that they have all the evidence they need. This is why experienced criminal defense attorneys may urge clients in such situations who are thinking of negotiating a plea agreement to act quickly.
Source: NBC Los Angeles, "Three Accused of Operating a Hidden Marketplace for Drugs, Counterfeit Items", Staff report, May 3, 2019