2 charged with drug trafficking on the dark web could face life imprisonment
A California man and his alleged cybercrime partner took to the dark web to sell thousands of counterfeit oxycodone pills laced with fentanyl, among other drugs, according to the US Department of Justice.
Now they face life imprisonment after getting caught in an FBI stab.
A 19-person federal grand jury indictment charges Westminster resident Michael Ta, 24, and Houston resident Rajiv Srinivasan, 37, with “conspiracy to distribute and possess with intent to distribute fentanyl and methamphetamine.” , according to a Department of Justice press release.
Srinivasan allegedly sold the drugs on Darkcode, a cybercrime forum on the dark web. A 2015 investigation of the forum by international law enforcement led to multiple arrests, including 12 in the United States. At the time, US Atty. David J. Hickton of the Western District of Pennsylvania said Darkode is “the most sophisticated English-language forum for criminal computer hackers in the world.”
According to the indictment, the co-defendants sold 123,188 fentanyl pills, more than 143 kilograms of methamphetamine, black tar heroin and cocaine via the forum and an encrypted messaging app. About 7,000 of these pills were allegedly sold between February and November 2022 to an undercover agent posing as a customer.
The dark web is a part of the internet that is not indexed by search engines and is only accessible via specialized web browsers. However, its relative inaccessibility does not protect it from the reach of law enforcement agencies. According to the press release, users “mistakenly believe that the dark web allows them to engage in criminal activities anonymously.”
Once Srinivasan received payments, the indictment said, he would funnel funds through cryptocurrency exchanges. Blockchain analysis firm Chainalysis estimated that $14 billion in illicit transaction activity took place in 2021, even though it accounted for just 0.15% of all cryptocurrency transactions.
Ta is accused of running the process of fulfilling orders: acquiring, storing and distributing packs of pills while his partner collects payment. A spreadsheet shared by Ta and Srinivasan reportedly contained around 1,500 customers.
Srinivasan was to be taken from Texas to California to stand trial. Ta was released on bail. His indictment is scheduled for December 22nd.
The charges of criminal conspiracy against the men carry a maximum sentence of life imprisonment.