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  1. Homeland Security Investigations (HSI)
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  3. Dark Web Marketplace Owners Charged With Facilitating $430M in Illegal Goods Sales

Dark Web Marketplace Owners Charged With Facilitating $430M in Illegal Goods Sales Following Joint HSI New York Investigation

Release Date: June 17, 2024

CHICAGO — A Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) New York investigation, in coordination with law enforcement partners, has resulted in charges against two men for allegedly operating Empire Market, a dark web marketplace that enabled users to anonymously buy and sell more than $430 million in illegal goods and services around the world.

The superseding indictment was announced June 14 by HSI New York Special Agent in Charge Ivan J. Arvelo, acting U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Illinois Morris Pasqual, FBI Chicago Special Agent in Charge Robert W. “Wes” Wheeler Jr., and U.S. Postal Inspection Service Chicago Inspector in Charge Ruth Mendonça.

“As alleged, the defendants attempted to utilize the darknet in furtherance of their drug sale operation to the tune of $60 million-worth of cryptocurrency,” said Arvelo. “HSI New York’s El Dorado Task Force Dark Web and Cryptocurrency investigators are equipped with the skills to identify money laundering, cybercrimes, and other illicit schemes and in turn prevent such offenses from impacting the safety and security of Americans. HSI is proud to stand with our law enforcement partners at the forefront of confronting the drug epidemic head-on at a time when illegal narcotics distribution is causing an alarming number of overdose deaths nationwide.”

Thomas Pavey, also known as Dopenugget, 38, of Ormond Beach, Fla., and Raheim Hamilton, also known as Sydney and Zero Angel, 28, of Suffolk, Va., owned and operated Empire Market from 2018 to 2020, during which time they facilitated approximately four million transactions between vendors and buyers valued at more than $430 million, according to a superseding indictment returned June 13 in U.S. District Court in Chicago. 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.

Pavey and Hamilton are in U.S. law enforcement custody. Arraignments in federal court in Chicago have not yet been scheduled.

According to the investigation, Pavey and Hamilton previously worked together to advertise and sell counterfeit U.S. currency on AlphaBay, a dark web marketplace for illicit goods that was shut down in 2017. The indictment states that they began operating Empire Market on Feb. 1, 2018. Thousands of vendors and buyers accessed Empire Market through a specialized anonymizing software and the site’s address, which ended in “.onion.” Vendors on Empire Market offered to sell various illicit goods and services, including controlled substances such as heroin, methamphetamine, cocaine and LSD, as well as counterfeit currency and stolen credit card information, according to the indictment. Buyers could browse the available goods and services by category, including “Fraud,” “Drugs & Chemicals,” “Counterfeit Items,” and “Software & Malware,” among others. After transactions were completed using cryptocurrency, buyers could review and rate their purchases on multiple criteria, including “stealth.”

During the investigation, federal law enforcement seized cryptocurrency valued at $75 million at the time of the seizures, as well as cash and precious metals.

The charges in the superseding indictment are punishable by a maximum sentence of life in federal prison.

HSI New York leads and directs all operational and administrative activities of the El Dorado Task Force (EDTF). The EDTF is the premier money laundering task force in the nation and comprises more than 200 law enforcement personnel representing approximately 35 federal, state and local law enforcement and regulatory agencies. The EDTF encompasses a standalone Cyber Division as part of an effort to stay abreast of emerging criminal threats and in keeping with current and future investigative priorities. The EDTF’s mission is to disrupt, dismantle or render ineffective organizations involved in the laundering of proceeds of narcotics trafficking and other financial crimes. Since its inception in 1992, the task force has been responsible for the seizure of approximately $600 million and more than 2100 arrests.

Last Updated: 06/17/2024
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