The Department of Justice is trying to send a message to drug traffickers: you can run, but you cannot hide, especially not on the dark web. The Department of Justice has
focused its efforts at taking dangerous drugs, like fentanyl, off the streets and holding drug traffickers accountable for their crimes. Their latest operation, Operation SpecTor, was the largest international operation targeting fentanyl and other opioid trafficking to date, and has resulted in 153 arrests in the United States and another 135 arrests outside of the U.S.
Operation SpecTor combined law enforcement agencies across North America, South America, and Europe, all participating in a years-long investigation focused on stopping drug trafficking operations on the dark web. The heart of the investigation stems from the takedown of “marketplaces” which result in seizure of dark web infrastructure and provides law enforcement with leads and evidence needed for prosecution.
For those who may not know, the dark web is the part of the internet that is not visible to search engines that requires anonymous browsers for access. It is a hub for criminal activity where you can purchase things like drugs, guns, credit card numbers, as well as several other illegal tangible and intangible things.
Well-known drug cartels, the Sinaloa and Jalisco drug cartels, send fentanyl into the U.S. through their global networks including the dark web. Fentanyl is fueling the drug crisis the U.S is facing, killing thousands of Americans each year. One of the goals of this operation was to shut down the access to the drug and pursue anyone associated with the drug cartels, wherever they may be located, to cut off the supply chain of the drug to the U.S.
In May of 2023, the results of Operation SpecTor were released by the Department of Justice and its Joint Criminal Opioid and Darknet Enforcement (JCODE) team along with their international partners. The operation resulted in 288 arrests as well as the seizure of 117 firearms, 850 kilograms of drugs (64 of which being fentanyl or fentanyl laced narcotics), and $53.4 million in cash and virtual currencies. This operation turned out to be the most arrests made and funds seized against drug traffickers on the dark web in an international operation led by the Department of Justice.
The collection of leads and evidence from the seizure of darknet infrastructure gave investigators information about both vendors and buyers. This information allowed the FBI to team up with the JCODE team to spread awareness of resources for those struggling with substance abuse in a public awareness campaign known as Operation ProtecTor. The goal was to identify those using anonymous technology to purchase drugs and point them toward available resources.
Among the identified dark web users was Anton Peck, 29, of Boca Raton, Florida. Peck has been sentenced to 16 years in prison for conspiracy to possess with the intent to distribute controlled substances, including fentanyl. Peck utilized the dark web to sell his product and built up over 6,000 customers in the U.S. Authorities also uncovered kilograms of fentanyl, cocaine, methamphetamine, and heroin in connection with Peck’s operation.
Christopher Hampton of Cerritos, California was another high-volume distributor that was identified through this operation. Hampton was found to be using a high-speed pill press to create fake pills containing fentanyl and methamphetamine. Investigators determined that Hampton had sold millions of these pills to thousands of customers through the use of at least nine different marketplaces on the dark web. It is alleged that Hampton sold $2 million worth of narcotics on just two of these marketplaces.
At the time of Hampton’s arrest, law enforcement discovered six pill press machines, 450 pounds of suspected narcotics, and illegal firearms. Investigators later uncovered a storage unit associated with Hampton’s operation which contained more illegal firearms, and more than 80 pounds of pressed fentanyl pills.
Finally, these investigators uncovered a couple that has been charged with conspiracy to distribute and possession with intent to distribute fentanyl and methamphetamine. These two were using different vendor accounts on the dark web to conduct over 1,100 transactions of narcotics and received more than $800,000 in cryptocurrency. This couple utilized the USPS, UPS, and other means of delivery to distribute their products across the country.
This record setting drug bust operation involved the collaboration of nine JCODE members and was aided by more than 30 international and domestic partners. Despite having a reputation for being anonymous, these various law enforcement agencies were able to detect, disrupt, and dismantle significant criminal enterprises operating to traffic
their narcotics on the dark web.
From the U.S. Department of Justice to the United States Postal Inspection Service and everything in between, the Attorney General demonstrated how these agencies can collectively come together to target these complex drug operations taking place on the dark web.
If you have a legal question regarding a criminal matter, contact Columbus, Ohio criminal defense lawyer, Joe Edwards at (614) 309-0243. Attorney Edwards has over 25 years of experience representing individuals at the state and federal levels.