Authorities seized more than $6.5 million in cash and virtual currency, as well as more than half a ton of drugs, in the largest dark web bust ever in the U.S., the Justice Department announced Tuesday.
A total of 179 buyers and sellers were charged worldwide by law enforcement agencies in the United States and Europe as part of Operation DisrupTor, named for the heavily-encrypted private web browser (Tor) most often used to access the dark web, authorities said.
More than 600 pounds of fentanyl, heroin, other opioids and cocaine were seized in the U.S. alone.
Authorities charged 121 people in the United States, 42 in Germany, eight in the Netherlands, four in the UK, three in Austria and one in Sweden after authorities identified more than 18,000 listed sales to customers in at least 35 states and several other countries. They also seized 64 guns.
Operation DisrupTor was the largest dark web sweep ever by law enforcement in the United States, Deputy U.S. Attorney General Jeffrey Rosen said during a streamed news conference Tuesday morning.
Among those busted were a group named “Pill Cosby” that Rosen said sold more than 1 million fentanyl-laced pills in Washington, DC. Authorities also zeroed in on a dark web hitman believed responsible for killing an elderly Georgia couple.
"These darknet marketplaces have grown in popularity at an alarming rate and allow drug traffickers to openly advertise and take orders from anywhere in the world," Rosen said. "The dark net invites criminals into our homes and provides unlimited access to illegal commerce."
Operation DisrupTor comes a year after international agencies took down the “Wall Street Market,” another of the dark web’s largest marketplaces.
It occurs amid a spike during the coronavirus pandemic of opioid-related overdoses and deaths, authorities noted.
It also proves, Rosen said, that “there will be no safe haven for drug dealing in cyberspace.”
“The golden age of the dark web marketplace is over,” Europol added.
"Today's announcement sends a strong message to criminals selling or buying illicit goods on the dark web: The hidden internet is no longer hidden, and your anonymous activity is not anonymous," said Edvardas Šileris, the head of Europol's European Cybercrime Centre.
The Justice Department operation involved agents and investigators from the FBI, ICE, the DEA, Customs and Border Protection (CBP) and the Defense Department.
The investigation is continuing.
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