U.S. and European law enforcement officials have arrested 150 people and seized more than $31 million in an international drug trafficking investigation stemming from sales on the darknet, the Justice Department announced on Tuesday.
The arrests are connected to a 10-month investigation between federal law enforcement officials in the U.S. and Europol in Europe. Prosecutors allege those charged are responsible for tens of thousands of illegal sales in the U.S., the United Kingdom, Australia, Bulgaria, France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, and Switzerland. Investigators have seized over $31.6 million in cash and virtual currency and 45 guns, the Justice Department said.
Investigators also recovered a slew of illegal drugs, including counterfeit medication and opioid pills, along with more than 152 kilograms of amphetamine, 21 kilograms of cocaine, and 32.5 kilograms of MDMA, according to prosecutors.
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Of the arrested individuals, 65 people were in the U.S., 47 were in Germany, 24 were in the United Kingdom, four were in Italy, four were in the Netherlands, three were in France, two were in Switzerland, and one person was in Bulgaria.
Deputy Attorney General Lisa Monaco said investigators found that darknet vendors were running fake laboratories in their homes to create fake pills — designed to look like prescription pain pills — that are laced with fentanyl, methamphetamine, and other illegal drugs.
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The darknet is a part of the internet hosted within an encrypted network and accessible only through specialized anonymity-providing tools, most notably the Tor Browser.
The operation was specifically designed to target “drug distributors who use the darknet to traffic these illicit drugs and items like pill presses, which are fueling the ongoing opioid crisis plaguing our communities,” Monaco said.
The Justice Department said its investigation was ongoing and investigators were still working to identify other individuals behind darknet accounts.
Monaco described that since the novel coronavirus pandemic began, “more people have turned to the darknet than ever before to buy drugs.”
“Before I close, I want to address those who remain on the darknet, those who are peddling illegal drugs and thinking they are safe behind layers of digital anonymity,” Monaco said. “My message to you is simple: There is no dark internet. We can and we will shine a light.”
Fox News’ Jake Gibson contributed to this report, as well as The Associated Press.