DEA nabs $150M from dark web drug lord based... in Coventry

Plus: Dodgy ex-US official also sentenced for software and database theft in big day for the courts

A dark web drug kingpin has handed more than $150 million in cryptocurrency to US authorities and pleaded guilty to selling hundreds of kilograms of drugs over the internet.

The cash haul marks the Drug Enforcement Administration's (DEA) largest single-case crypto/cash seizure in history.

Indian national Banmeet Singh ran a multi-national organized crime group since at least 2012, with authorities latching on to his distribution cells located across the US which included Ohio, Florida, North Carolina, Maryland, New York, North Dakota, and Washington, among other locations.

Members of Singh's syndicate received international drug shipments at each of these cell sites which then repackaged and distributed the drugs across the entirety of the US, Canada, England, Ireland, Jamaica, Scotland, and the US Virgin Islands.

Feds said the 40-year-old was instrumental in distributing fentanyl, LSD, ecstasy, Xanax, ketamine, and tramadol in what was described as one of the most prolific drug operations in the US.

"Banmeet Singh and traffickers like him think they can operate anonymously on the dark web and evade prosecution," said Nicole M. Argentieri, acting assistant attorney general at the Justice Department's Criminal Division. 

"Today's guilty plea, which includes forfeiture of approximately $150 million in cryptocurrency, demonstrates that the Justice Department will hold criminals who violate US law accountable no matter how they conceal their activity. Together with our international partners, we will continue to find criminals lurking in the darkness and bring their crimes to light."

Singh was arrested at his home by the UK's National Crime Agency (NCA) in April 2019 and later extradited to the US in March 2023 after a failed attempt to block the move via the European Court of Human Rights.

The DEA sought the NCA's help in 2017 after learning the 40-year-old resided in Coventry, UK, and also spent time in India every year.

Authorities said Singh established a number of pharmaceutical businesses in the UK and lived a "moderate lifestyle," showing no signs of the extreme wealth that his cryptocurrency wallet balances would otherwise indicate.

After his arrest at his Sunbeam Way home, the resulting property search led to the discovery of multiple cold wallets and recovery seeds for cryptocurrency accounts – key evidence in the case against Singh.

The former keyboard drug lord handed over the criminal proceeds as part of his plea agreement and now faces an agreed-upon sentence of eight years in prison.

"Singh's conviction is the culmination of several years of close cooperation between the NCA and the US Drug Enforcement Administration," said Rick Mackenzie, operations manager at the NCA.

"In addition to securing his arrest and extradition, NCA officers gathered vital evidence showing the extent of Singh's offending and the lengths he went to in order to conceal the profits he made.

"His guilty plea today is thanks to dedicated work by all partners involved in this case, underscoring the importance of international cooperation to disrupt and bring to justice all those involved in the global supply of drugs."

Bad day to be a cybercriminal

On the same day that Singh pleaded guilty, three former Department of Homeland Security (DHS) staff were sentenced for their role in a conspiracy to steal US government software and databases.

Per The Register's previous reporting, the trio's ambition was to steal sensitive data they could then use to create their own software which they planned to sell to government agencies.

Arguably the most striking detail of the case was one of the guilty parties – a high-ranking government official who has held inspector general positions at multiple government agencies.

Charles K. Edwards, 63, of Sandy Spring, Maryland, was the former acting inspector general of the DHS Office of the Inspector General (DHS-OIG), while Sonal Patel, 49, of Sterling, Virginia, and Murali Y. Venkata, 58, of Aldie, Virginia, also worked in the DHS-OIG as IT staff.

All three had a longstanding relationship, also having previously worked together at the US Postal Service Office of Inspector General (USPS-OIG).

Edwards, Patel, and Venkata conspired to steal law enforcement data and personally identifiable information (PII) on more than 200,000 federal staff at both the DHS-OIG and USPS-OIG – data that was then shared with India-based software developers.

The most serious sentence was given to Edwards – 18 months in prison. Patel will serve two years of probation, while Venakta, who was also found guilty of destroying incriminating evidence after learning of the authorities' investigation, was sentenced to four months in prison.

The conspiracy to steal and defraud the US government was just one of the allegations leveled at Edwards during his time at the DHS. 

Whistleblowers speaking in 2013 alleged he violated his Office's own ethical standards by altering and delaying investigations into the US Secret Service's agents hiring sex workers.

He was also alleged to have used Office funds for personal travel to South Florida so he could take classes for his work towards gaining a PhD, while also making staffers complete his coursework on his behalf.

Even further, Edwards allegedly broke anti-nepotism laws by hiring his wife as a supervisor and later allowing her to work remotely from India for seven months. ®

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