US seizes $6.5M in digital currencies and cash in darknet takedown

The United States government has arrested 179 individuals and seized $6.5 million in cash and digital currencies in one of the largest darknet market takedowns in recent times. In an operation that started in May 2019, the government also seized 500 kilograms of drugs and 63 firearms.

In 2019, the U.S. and German governments brought down Wall Street Market, one of the largest illegal online markets on the dark web. This takedown gave the authorities intelligence that sparked a series of follow-up investigations. Seventeen months later, these investigations have culminated in the arrest of 179 people globally, with 121 being arrested in the U.S, 42 in Germany, 8 in the Netherlands and 4 in the United Kingdom.

“It [Wall Street Market] provided us with all the information which led to the identification of those arrested today,” Europol press officer Claire Georges told Wired.

Known as Operation DisrupTor—a play on the anonymous Tor browser which many use to access the dark web—it brought down a thriving dark web network that engaged in tens of thousands of sales of illegal goods in Europe and the U.S.

In its statement, the Justice Department revealed that it had seized $6.5 million in cash and digital currencies. In Los Angeles, the DoJ’s Joint Criminal Opioid and Darknet Enforcement (JCODE) task force brought down a ring that was selling illicit drugs to 35 states. The task force also seized $1.6 million in digital currencies.

In addition, authorities seized 500 kilograms of drugs globally, with half of this being seized in the U.S. Some of the seized drugs were cocaine, heroin, methamphetamine, ecstasy, fentanyl and oxycodone.

The DoJ, the FBI, the Drug Enforcement Authority, Homeland Security, the Postal Service were all involved in the operation, partnering with Europol to take down the criminals.

U.S. Deputy Attorney General Jeffrey Rosen remarked, “Criminals selling fentanyl on the Darknet should pay attention to Operation DisrupTor. The arrest of 179 of them in seven countries—with the seizure of their drug supplies and their money as well—shows that there will be no safe haven for drug dealing in cyberspace.”

While the takedown was a big milestone for law enforcement agencies, it further highlights the use of cryptocurrencies, in most cases BTC, in illicit online activities. As CoinGeek reported, a recent report by Bitfury revealed that the use of BTC in the dark web has increased in 2020.

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