A joint operation between law enforcement agencies in four different countries that resulted in the break-up of a European dark web ecstasy dealing gang has led to two of the group’s members standing trial in the US.
Police from America, France, Belgium and Romania worked collaboratively to bring the gang to justice, resulting in the arrest of ten suspects in a series of raids in May. The operation that targeted the group’s members was led by Europol and the FBI.
On Monday, suspected leader of the ItalianMafiaBrussels (IMB) gang Filip Lucian Simion appeared in a court in Denver after being extradited to the US from Romania on charges of heading up the syndicate. Romania extradited another suspect in the case, Leonardo Cristea, back in July. Both men are facing a number of drug trafficking and money laundering charges.
All of the other defendants apprehended in May, including two who were named in a US indictment, will be prosecuted in Belgium.
The gang used now-closed dark web marketplaces Silk Road and Silk Road 2.0. to ship mostly MDMA to a number of countries, including the US and Canada. US customs officials were first alerted to IMB’s activities when they intercepted a package containing 60g of MDMA addressed to an individual based in Colorado in July 2013.
The intended recipient of the drugs agreed to cooperate with police and told them where the MDMA came from. Not long afterwards, US authorities seized a number of other packages from the gang as they came into the country, and persuaded some of the group’s would-be customers to allow officers access to their dark web accounts.
At the same time, Belgian customs officials intercepted multiple IMB parcels themselves, and contacted their counterparts in the US. After pooling resources and accessing Silk Road server data, the investigation was widened to both France and Romania. The resultant painstaking investigation led to May’s arrest, and could result in Simion and Cristea receiving maximum sentences of up to 20 years each in a US jail.
American courts have taken a tough line with criminals involved in large-scale dark web drug dealing operations, most notably in the case of Ross Ulbricht, the self-styled “libertarian” mastermind behind the original Silk Road marketplace. Ulbricht was sentenced to life behind bars without parole last year, but earlier this month launched a bid to overturn his conviction.
During his trial, Ulbricht’s supporters argued that his hidden website actually made drug users safer, helping them avoid having to interact with potentially dangerous dealers on the street. They also claimed the site’s feedback system ensured buyers received better quality drugs. While the latter point has in some cases proved to be true, it has had the effect of substances such as ecstasy becoming much stronger, potentially putting the lives of users at risk.