According to investigators at the Department of Drug Trafficking at the Federal Criminal Police Office, a young man living in Lower Austria controlled several dark web vendor accounts and distributed drugs throughout Austria and “half of Europe.” The man, unemployed and living at his mother’s house, had earned more than 300,000 euros through the drug trade. The Federal Criminal Police Office called the case “proof” that law enforcement can take down drug dealers who think their internet activities leave them untouchable by the police.
The lead investigators at the Department of Drug Trafficking at the Federal Criminal Police Office have been investigating more than 400 individuals suspected of some level of involvement in the dark web drug trade. This “involvement” ranges from simple buyers to dark web vendors and their suppliers. This case involved roughly 10 individuals suspected of various roles in the operation, but the specific number of suspects remains unknown. Although arrests in this case began in 2016, the first real breakthroughs occurred earlier this year. The first few arrests likely yielded very little information; the few details released to the public indicated that the early suspects had only been dark web drug buyers who sold drugs purchased from dark web vendors.
Those buyers, however, had allegedly attracted the attention of law enforcement due to the unusually large size of drug shipments they had been receiving. The first package was intercepted in Germany. Customs intercepted a package containing 500 grams of amphetamine. Daniel Lichtenegger of the Federal Criminal Police Office later revealed that the vendors imported drugs from the Netherlands and from the Czech Republic. The package, though, was not addressed to the recently sentenced 24-year-old who had been living at his mother’s house. Instead, the package was headed towards two men in Vienna who had also played a significant role in the Austrian darknet scene.
Both men, aged 34 and 44, were arrested on November 5, 2017. The men had been buying in bulk and reselling to other vendors on the dark web, to customers for personal use, and to local drug users. After their arrests, the police revealed it had identified three additional darknet drug vendors in Austria. They specifically named the Dream marketplace as the market where the investigated vendors had been selling drugs.
In only a matter of months, Austrian law enforcement rounded up the entities that controlled or aided in the operation of three dark web vendor accounts. At an early August sentencing hearing, the public learned that a 24-year-old from Lower Austria had owned three dark web vendor profiles on Dream marketplace. He controlled UncleSam, JOKER, and AustriaNarcos, the court heard. Since 2016, the 24-year-old and his so-called “second in command” had shipped more than 25,000 ecstasy pills to dark web drug buyers in Austria alone.
“This case proves our skill and that we can act against supposedly anonymous perpetrators on the darknet. But we need more specialized criminalists,” a Federal Criminal Police Office spokesperson said.
Although the case focused on the 24-year-old’s actions, he never acted alone. Investigators revealed the he had worked alongside a “gang” that primarily acted under the 24-year-old’s authority. Information from the darknet vendor indicated that a single entity may not have operated all three accounts, even though all three accounts entered vacation mode within one month of each other and none of the accounts had left vacation mode since the disappearance of the account holders.
At a recent sentencing hearing, the 24-year-old from Lower Austria who had been staying with his mother, received a six-year prison sentence for his role as the primary conspirator in the drug trafficking operation. His so-called “second in command” received a seven-year prison sentence for helping the 24-year-old, and playing a pivotal role in the operation of one of the vendor accounts. A third co-defendant received an eight-month conditional sentence. Investigations into additional co-conspirators are ongoing.