July 24, 2017
Contact: Casey Rettig
Phone Number: (415) 436-7994
Large Scale “Dark Net” Heroin, Cocaine Traffickers Sentenced
Used names including “Area51” and “DarkApollo” on AlphaBay
FRESNO, Calif. - Abudullah Almashwali, 31, a Yemeni national formerly residing in Brooklyn, New York, was sentenced today to six and a half years in prison for conspiracy to distribute and distribution of heroin and cocaine, U.S. Attorney Phillip A. Talbert and DEA Special Agent-in-Charge John J. Martin announced.
According to court documents, Almashwali and co-defendant Chaudhry Ahmad Farooq, 24, a Pakistani national residing in Brooklyn, New York, were large-scale heroin and cocaine distributors on the dark web marketplace AlphaBay. Almashwali and Farooq used the vendor names “Area51” and “DarkApollo.”
According to the criminal complaint, Almashwali and Farooq accepted orders for heroin and cocaine on AlphaBay, and then mailed the narcotics from post offices in New York to customers throughout the United States. They received payment in Bitcoin. In May 2016, law enforcement officers made two undercover purchases of heroin from “Area51,” which were delivered to a post office box in the Eastern District of California. Postal records revealed that Almashwali purchased the postage for the two heroin parcels mailed to law enforcement, and that Farooq was involved in other mailings. Law enforcement agents were also able to determine that the encrypted email address used by “Area51” and “DarkApollo” was associated with actual Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook accounts used by Farooq.
Dark web marketplaces are operated on computer networks designed to conceal the true Internet (IP) addresses of the computers accessing the network. They allow for payments to be made only in the form of digital currency, most commonly Bitcoin. While not inherently illegal, digital currency is used by dark web marketplaces because online transactions in digital currency can be completed without a third-party payment processor and are therefore perceived to be more anonymous and less vulnerable to law enforcement scrutiny.
Last week, the Justice Department announced that AlphaBay, the largest criminal marketplace on the internet, was shut down and that its creator and administrator was arrested following an (1:17-cr-144-LJO), filed in Fresno on June 1. The indictment charged racketeering and various narcotics, identity theft, and money laundering offenses. Law enforcement authorities in the United States worked with numerous foreign partners to freeze and preserve millions of dollars’ worth of cryptocurrencies that were proceeds of the AlphaBay organization’s illegal activities. A related civil forfeiture complaint has also been filed against numerous high value assets, including luxury vehicles, and real estate located throughout the world, including in Thailand, Cyprus, Lichtenstein, and Antigua & Barbuda.
U.S. Attorney Talbert stated: “The sentencing in this case is timely, as it closely follows our seizure and shut down of the AlphaBay criminal marketplace. That case resulted in an indictment filed in our district, but involved significant coordination and assistance from our partners in the Criminal Division’s Computer Crime and Intellectual Property Section, as well as the FBI and DEA. Although other markets are likely to open or continue to operate after AlphaBay’s demise, we have shown our ability prosecute those who commit crimes using the dark web and to shut down the criminal enterprises that attempt to hide there. Today’s sentence highlights that people committing crimes on the dark web will be brought to justice.”
“Those who conduct criminal activity on the dark web under the guise of anonymity are mistaken and this sentence serves as a reminder,” stated DEA Special Agent-in-Charge John J. Martin. “Recently, the DEA Fresno Resident Office worked tirelessly with our law enforcement counterparts to shut down the largest criminal marketplace on the internet, and we have no intention of stopping there. We will continue to investigate those who traffic drugs on the dark web or any place else.”
On January 17, 2017, Farooq pleaded guilty to conspiring to traffic heroin. According to the plea agreement, Farooq admitted to selling 636.5 grams of heroin on the dark web marketplace Alpha Bay in exchange for $145,807 in Bitcoin. He is scheduled to be sentenced on January 22, 2018. He faces a maximum statutory penalty of 20 years in prison and a $1 million fine. The actual sentence, however, will be determined at the discretion of the court after consideration of any applicable statutory factors and the Federal Sentencing Guidelines, which take into account a number of variables.
This case is a product of an investigation by the Drug Enforcement Administration, with assistance provided by the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’(ICE) Homeland Security (HSI), IRS Criminal Investigation, and the U.S. Postal Inspection Service. Assistant U.S. Attorneys Grant B. Rabenn and Ross Pearson are prosecuting the case.
This case is part of an Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task (OCDETF). The OCDETF program was established in 1982 to conduct comprehensive, multilevel attacks on major drug trafficking and money laundering organizations. The principal mission of the OCDETF program is to identify, disrupt, and dismantle the most serious drug trafficking and money laundering organizations and those primarily responsible for the nation’s drug supply.