In a case that included probes in Fresno and Merced, the Justice Department announced the dismantling Thursday of an international “dark web” operation that dealt in hundreds of millions of dollars of illegal drugs and other contraband.
In a press conference in Washington with Attorney General Jeff Sessions and Sacramento-based U.S. Attorney Phil Talbert, officials said they had taken down the Alpha Bay dark website, which they described as being 10 times larger than the Silk Road site eradicated four years ago.
“We are talking about multiple servers, different countries, hundreds of millions of dollars in crypto currency, in a darknet drug trade that spans the globe,” Acting FBI Director Andrew McCabe said.
The case is rooted in an indictment unsealed Thursday that was issued June 1 by a federal grand jury.
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The indictment names Alexandre Cazes, 25, a Canadian citizen who has lived in Quebec and Bangkok, Thailand, and who federal authorities say killed himself in jail in Thailand after his arrest earlier this month.
The investigation by the Sacramento field office of the FBI and other agencies worldwide found that Cazes began the site in July 2014 on the dark web, which allows users to purchase virtually any sort of illegal drug, weapon or other items without their identities being detected.
The indictment says the Alpha Bay website had members and associates worldwide, including in Fresno and Merced and that it distributed marijuana, heroin, cocaine, fentanyl and other drugs, as well as stolen and counterfeit goods and computer hacking devices.
The operation was so sophisticated it employed “scam watchers” who monitored the site and a public relations manager “for outreach to the website’s users,” the indictment states.
The violations cited by federal officials include the purchase by an undercover agent of marijuana on Dec. 31, 2015, that was mailed from Merced to Buffalo, and a May 20, 2016, purchase of heroin that was mailed from Brooklyn, N.Y., to Fresno.
Another undercover purchase last October involved shipments of heroin and fentanyl from San Francisco to Fresno, the indictment states.
“As of June 2017, there were approximately 369,000 listings for sale of various illicit goods on the Alpha Bay website, including such hosted categories as “fraud,” “drugs and chemicals,” “counterfeit items,” “weapons,” and “software and malware,” court documents state.
Even with Cazes’ death, federal officials have filed forfeiture documents seeking to seize millions of dollars in property worldwide, including homes, cash and vehicles such as a 2013 Lamborghini and a Porsche Panamera, most of it believed to be in Thailand.