Darkweb Vendor “Darkking22” Admits Fentanyl Distribution
According to a press release from the U.S. Attorney’s Office of the Western District of Pennsylvania, a man from Euclid, Ohio, has admitted to the crime of fentanyl distribution. He further admitted that he had imported fentanyl and fentanyl analogues from suppliers in China for distribution throughout the United States via the Dream dark web marketplace.
Antoin Austin, a 28-year-old man Euclid, Ohio, pleaded guilty to the distribution of fentanyl, a joint announcement from U.S. Attorney Scott W. Brady of the Western District of Pennsylvania and U.S. Attorney Justin Herdman of the Northern District of Ohio explained. Both Assistant U.S. Attorney Jessica Lieber Smolar in the Western District of Pennsylvania and Assistant U.S. Attorney Matthew Cronin of the Northern District of Ohio presented Austin following his May 2018 arrest for the distribution of several illegal substances of the opioid variety (and the ”Molly” Austin had advertised on his Dream vendor profile).
The United States Postal Inspection Service and the Federal Bureau of Investigation investigated Austin in early 2018 under new directives from the Joint Criminal Opioid Darknet Enforcement (JCODE) initiative that Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced even earlier in 2018. Austin’s arrest, according to U.S. Attorney Scott W. Brady, was one of the first arrests attributed to the JCODE (or the “JCODE initiative”). This conviction, also, was one of the first few connected to law enforcement officers working with the JCODE taskforce.
While the JCODE initiative received credit for the investigation, arrest, and conviction (through the evidence collected during the investigation), the investigation into the recipient of a 10-gram package of fentanyl looked no different than the investigations conducted on a daily basis with no connection to the JCODE initiative. The investigation officially began in early 2018. However, the United States Postal Inspection Service had intercepted a package containing 10 grams of fentanyl in 2017 that a supplier had mailed to Austin at his address in Euclid. The package had originated from China. During the course of the investigation, law enforcement officers learned that Austin used one or more suppliers in China as sources of fentanyl and fentanyl analogues. Information revealed in court documents indicated that suppliers in China had supplied the entirety of Austin’s drug distribution operation.
“This defendant ordered thousands of deadly doses of fentanyl from China, brought it to a residential neighborhood in Euclid and then mailed the dangerous drugs all over Ohio and across the country; Drug traffickers like this have enriched themselves while causing so much pain in our community,” U.S. Attorney Justin Herdman said at one of the press announcements concerning Austin’s case.
The Postal Inspection Service—as part of the JCODE initiative—intercepted the 10-gram package of fentanyl in late 2017 that sparked the FBI’s involvement in 2018. FBI Special Agents in Pennsylvania made an undercover purchase of cyclopropyl fentanyl from the darknet vendor “Darkking22” in March 2018. Throughout the month of March, FBI Special Agents in in Pittsburgh purchased additional packages from Darkking22’s Dream market vendor account. The vendor profile reflected the fentanyl seizure that occured in late 2017. “ATTENTION: 11/6/17 Hey sorry to say I’m out of stock of the r-30940. Not to put too much info out, Something happen, set me back at the moment not to worry,” the vendor wrote. The months that followed proved increasingly less profitable for Austin. He kept prematurely running out of product, apologizing to his customers, and writing that he would not be going into detail about the issues.
At some point after the FBI started investigating, the coordination with USPIS paid off; federal agents traced the packages back to specific post offices where they eventually caught Austin through video surveillance. He had dropped off several packages that postal inspectors linked to several orders placed by FBI investigators. The FBI kept Austin under surveillance and tipped off USPIS about packages whenever Austin dropped a batch off at the Post Office. After the arrest and initial charge in Ohio, the U.S. Attorney’s Office in the Western District of Pennsylvania filed a charge (by information) that brought the case to Pennsylvania and allowed Austin to sign a plea deal for the fentanyl distribution charge.
Court officials have scheduled Austin’s sentencing hearing for November 5, 2018.