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Conspiracy to Distribute Illegal Drugs on Dark Web Earns 12-Year Sentence

A Bronx, N.Y. resident has been sentenced to a 151-month prison term in a case that highlights the shift of illegal drug dealing to the “Dark Web,” Geoffrey S. Berman, the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York, has announced. 

Louis Fernandez pleaded guilty in July to charges that he participated in a conspiracy to distribute carfentanil, fentanyl, and a fentanyl analogue over the “dark web,” and for possessing a firearm after being convicted of a felony.

Fentanyl is a synthetic opioid that is significantly stronger than heroin, and carfentanil is a fentanyl analogue that is approximately 100 times stronger than fentanyl.

The “Dark Web,” the part of the Internet that is only accessible by means of special software, allows users and website operators to remain anonymous or untraceable. It has become the outlet for sizable flows of fentanyl, one of the chemical culprits of the opioid crisis.

Earlier this year, the website DarknetLive reported that, despite enforcement actions over the last six years that led to the shutdown of about half a dozen online illegal drug sales websites, there are still close to 30 illegal online markets flourishing.

Manhattan U.S. Attorney Geoffrey S. Berman said in the statement: “Luis Fernandez and his co-defendant Richard Castro sold large quantities of fentanyl and carfentanil to hundreds of individuals across the country, including over the dark web.”

For four years beginning in 2015, the conspiracy dealt drugs over the Dark Web, using the monikers “Chemsusa”, “Chems_usa”, and “Chemical_usa.” According to the Justice Department, Castro “was an operator of these online monikers and the leader of this conspiracy.”

On one Dark Web marketplace, Dream Market, Castro “boasted that he had completed more than 3,200 transactions on other dark web markets, including more than 1,800 on AlphaBay.”

In June 2018, Castro, using the “Chemsusa” moniker, told his customers that he was moving his business off of dark web marketplaces and would accept purchase requests for narcotics only via encrypted email.

To learn the off-market email address, “Chems_usa” required willing customers to pay a fee. An undercover law enforcement officer paid this fee, obtained the encrypted email address, and placed orders with Castro.

Castro’s customers paid him in Bitcoin, a decentralized digital currency without a central bank or single administrator that can be sent from user to user on a peer-to-peer network. In other forms of cybercrime, particularly the extortion called “ransomware,” the use of Bitcoin is crucial, providing anonymity to criminal undertakings.

Fernandez managed the conspiracy’s stash house, packaged narcotics, and shipped the narcotics via U.S. mail from the New York City area to hundreds of individuals throughout the United States.

An earlier landmark case was last month’s sentencing of an Iraqi immigrant who worked as a U.S. Army interpreter to 30 years in prison for dealing fentanyl over secret online networks, leading to the drug death of a Marine, prosecutors said.

Alaa Mohammed Allawi, 30, pleaded guilty to drug and weapons charges and was also ordered to forfeit his San Antonio, Texas home, a Maserati sportscar, firearms, jewelry, his stake in a California-based coffee franchise and nearly $50,000 in U.S. and crypto-currencies, according to Reuters.

Authorities said it marked the first prosecution of a fentanyl distribution case involving the darknet and crypto-currency.

“From his use of the Dark Web, to his clandestine manufacturing of counterfeit pills laced with fentanyl, to his drug sales targeting college students, Allawi operated with little concern for the people in our communities,” Will Glaspy, Drug Enforcement Administration special agent in charge, said in a written statement.

Additional Reading: Illegal Drug Sales Flourishing on Dark Web

Nancy Bilyeau, deputy editor of The Crime Report, specializes in cybercrime coverage. She invites readers to contact her directly at nancy@thecrimereport.org