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288 arrested in multinational Monopoly Market takedown

US tells criminals it 'will find you' and has a particular set of skills

In an international operation 288 people have been arrested across the US, Europe and South America after allegedly selling opioids on the now-shuttered Monopoly Market dark web drug trafficking marketplace, according to US and European law enforcement.

Codenamed "SpecTor," this operation spanned the three continents in what the US Department of Justice deemed the largest-ever such international score, both in terms of people arrested and of seizures made. The latter included 117 firearms, 850 kilograms of drugs that include 64 kilograms of fentanyl or fentanyl-laced narcotics, and $53.4 million in cash and virtual currencies.

The arrests took place in America (153), the UK (55), Germany (52), the Netherlands (10), Austria (9), France (5), Switzerland (2), Poland (1) and Brazil (1), according to Europol.

German authorities originally seized the cybercrime marketplace's infrastructure in December 2021, although law enforcement didn't announce the takedown at the time. It's a tactic police are getting very good at these days, memorably the double-Dutch attack that cripped Alphabay and Hansa.

"A number of investigations to identify additional individuals behind dark web accounts are still ongoing," the European cops noted in announcing the arrests. 

"As law enforcement authorities gained access to the vendors' extensive buyer lists, thousands of customers across the globe are now at risk of prosecution as well," Europol added, echoing a recent warning from the FBI that Uncle Sam is also putting the squeeze on criminal souk's customers — not just the admins. 

"Our message to criminals on the dark web is this: You can try to hide in the furthest reaches of the internet, but the Justice Department will find you and hold you accountable for your crimes," said US Attorney General Merrick Garland today in a speech announcing the arrests. 

US law enforcement, in addition to arresting 153 suspects, seized 104 illegal guns and more than 200,000 pills, some of which contained fentanyl, according to the Justice Department.

Naming and shaming

These arrests include Anton Peck, 29, of Boca Raton, Florida. On December 1, 2022, Peck was sentenced to 16 years in prison for conspiring to possess with the intent to distribute controlled substances, including fentanyl, methamphetamine, and heroin. 

Also last year, one of Peck's co-conspirators, Kevin Fusco, 35, of West Palm Beach, Florida, was sentenced to 11 years in prison for conspiring to distribute fentanyl, heroin, and methamphetamine. 

Another one of Peck's drug-slinging buddies, Vincent Banner, 31, of Boynton Beach, Florida, is scheduled to be sentenced on June 8 after pleading guilty to one count of conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute fentanyl, methamphetamine, and heroin.

Meanwhile, on November 18 a federal grand jury charged Christopher Hampton, 36, of Cerritos, California, with heading an organization that obtained bulk fentanyl, operated labs in California that used high-speed presses to create fake pills containing fentanyl and methamphetamine, and sold millions of these to thousands of customers online.

According to the Feds, Hampton was active on at least nine dark web marketplaces and allegedly sold nearly $2 million worth of drugs on two of these alone. 

At the time of his arrest in November 2022, federal agents seized 450 pounds of suspected narcotics; six pill press machines, some of which were capable of producing thousands of pills per hour; and illegal firearms including assault rifles and a machine gun. Agents later found a storage unit that contained 80 pounds of pressed fentanyl pills, eight guns, and other materials used for drug manufacturing. 

Another federal grand jury indictment on May 12 charged Holly Adams, 31, and Devlin Hosner, 33, of Indio, California, with conspiracy to distribute and possess with intent to distribute fentanyl and methamphetamine, and with conspiracy to launder money. 

In the runup to operation SpecTor, US and German authorities also shut down another illicit souk, Hydra, which, at the time, was the highest-grossing dark-web market raking in an estimated $1.35 billion in revenue.

And more recently, the FBI seized Genesis Market's infrastructure as part of a 16-nation law enforcement effort. Genesis Market was a major online shop for stolen account access credentials, and in announcing that takedown, US cops revealed [PDF] that they'd pwned the marketplace for at least two years. ®

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