Suspected bosses of $430M dark-web Empire Market charged in US

Cybercrime super-souk's Dopenugget and Zero Angel may face life behind bars if convicted

The two alleged administrators of Empire Market, a dark-web bazaar that peddled drugs, malware, digital fraud, and other illegal stuff, have been detained on charges related to owning and operating the illicit souk.

According to US prosecutors, 38-year-old Thomas Pavey, aka "Dopenugget," of Ormond beach, Florida, and 28-year-old Raheim Hamilton, aka "Sydney" and "Zero Angel," of Suffolk, Virginia, ran Empire Market between 2018 and 2020. During this period, they allegedly facilitated four million underworld transactions valued at more than $430 million by federal prosecutors.

"Thousands of vendors advertised goods and services for sale on Empire Market, including controlled substances, compromised and stolen account credentials, stolen and counterfeit credit card information, and counterfeit currency, among others," according to the pair's indictment [PDF]. 

Buyers could browse the e-souk by category, including "Fraud," "Drugs and Chemicals," "Counterfeit Items," and "Software and Malware." Plus, these categories had sub-categories, so, for example, addicts could find "Cocaine," "Heroin," "Morphine," "OxyCodone," "Prescription," "Meth," "Opium," and others under the drugs category, we're told.

After making a purchase, buyers could review and rate the vendors on various criteria including "stealth." The suspected duo also alleged employed moderators to resolve any disputes between buyers and sellers on the site.

All users made purchases using cryptocurrency, and Empire Market could only be accessed using "specialized anonymizing software" by which the Feds mean Tor – Empire Market operated as a hidden service with a .onion address.

And the site's admins encouraged Empire Market customers to use cryptocurrency mixers — aka tumbling services — when trading to prevent the cops from linking their spending to what would appear to be illicit purchases. According to the court documents:

In or about approximately October 2018, Empire Market advertised that "Tumbling your coins is a popular way to erase any trace of your coins coming from Empire Market. In some cases, using the blockchain, a determined investigator can trace you back to this Empire. Tumbling your coins for a small fee (normally 1-3 percent) ensure that you will never be traced back to here."

During an investigation and subsequent arrests, federal law enforcement is said to have seized cryptocurrency valued at $75 million along with cash and precious metals.

Prior to allegedly operating Empire Market, Pavey and Hamilton previously worked together to advertise and sell counterfeit US currency on another dark-web market, AlphaBay, that the Feds shut down in 2017, it is claimed.

The indictment charges Pavey and Hamilton with conspiring with each other and others to engage in drug trafficking, computer fraud, access device fraud, counterfeiting, and money laundering. These charges carry a maximum sentence of life imprisonment.

Both men remain in custody and await their arraignments in federal court. ®

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