International law enforcement operation targeting illegal drugs sold through the dark web leads to the arrest of four Las Vegas men accused of packaging, shipping and distributing cocaine across the United States federal officials said Tuesday.
The Las Vegas arrests this summer were part of “Operation Dark HunTor,” which was announced by the US Department of Justice on Tuesday. The investigation led to 65 arrests in the United States and about 150 in Bulgaria, France, Germany, the Netherlands, the United Kingdom, Italy and Switzerland, the department said in a statement, adding that ‘”a number of investigations are still ongoing.”
Authorities confiscated drugs, weapons and more than $ 30 million in foreign currency, officials said.
The dark web, also known as the darknet, is a part of the internet where users can protect their identities to create marketplaces that sell illicit items.
In July, a federal grand jury in Las Vegas indicted Paul Engstrom, Vincent Cuomo, Abraham Elliott and Joseph Krieger with six counts of conspiracy to distribute drugs, according to court documents.
Engstrom, Cuomo, and Elliott face an additional count of drug possession with intent to distribute.
And Engstrom, described in the complaint as the head of the operation, has been charged with conspiracy to launder money.
The group came to the attention of the Drug Enforcement Administration in October 2020, according to the complaint.
Watching a townhouse on the 300 block of East Silverado Ranch Boulevard near Bermuda Road, officers discovered that members of the group would deliver drugs to Krieger, who would then ship envelopes containing cocaine from city post offices, according to the complaint.
In late December, agents from the US Postal Service Office of Investigations, aided by North Las Vegas police, opened four of 15 envelopes Krieger had left at a post office on Martin Luther King Boulevard, according to the complaint. Inside, they found a “white powdery substance” that tested positive for cocaine.
Postal service investigators linked the envelopes to a “dark web” entity known only to authorities as “Insta”.
The criminal operation continued until DEA agents raided a second “hideout” near Interstate 15 and H Street on June 21, according to the complaint.
Engstrom, Cuomo, and Elliott tried to run away from officers, but didn’t get far, according to the complaint. Officers found approximately 15 pounds of cocaine, zippered bags and scales in the house. It was not clear where or when Krieger had been arrested.
Investigators believe the group trafficked at least 20 kilograms (over 40 pounds) of cocaine from February 2020 to June 2021, raising nearly $ 2 million, according to the complaint.
Buyers would pay three times the market value of the drug and had to purchase at least 3.5 grams of the drug at a time, according to the complaint. Buyers would pay with cryptocurrency, a decentralized and untraceable digital currency, which Engstrom would convert into cash.
Krieger and Elliott have since been released on bail, while prosecutors recently spoke out against Engstrom’s release, calling him a flight risk, court documents show.
Federal prosecutors in 15 states, including Nevada, handle U.S. cases, officials said.
“Today we face new and increasingly dangerous threats as drug dealers expand into the digital world and use the darknet to sell dangerous drugs like fentanyl and methamphetamine,” said Anne Milgram , director of the DEA, in a press release. “These drug dealers are flooding the United States with deadly fake pills, causing the overdose crisis in the United States, spurring violence and threatening the safety and health of American communities.”
Contact Ricardo Torres-Cortez at [email protected] Follow @rickytwrites on Twitter.