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Dark Web drug kingpin charged, forfeits $4 million in Bitcoin

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A prolific seller of drugs on the Dark Web caught in a sting operation has been charged and ordered to forfeit over $4 million in cryptocurrency. 

Last week, the US Department of Justice (DoJ) said that Richard Castro, also known as “Chemsusa,” “Chems_usa,” and “Jagger109,” among other aliases, used the Dark Web — only accessible via Tor — between 2015 and 2019 to sell controlled, restricted drugs. 

The 36-year-old, a resident of Florida, traded synthetic opioids, specifically carfentanil, fentanyl, and phenyl fentanyl, all of which are powerful tranquilizers and painkillers. 

Carfentanil is so powerful that the substance is considered deadly and is only officially used to sedate large animals such as elephants. Fentanyl is prescribed for severe, chronic pain and phenyl fentanyl is a more potent derivative of fentanyl.

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US prosecutors say that Castro and a co-conspirator operated on Dream Market, AlphaBay, and other markets. Castro claimed that he had completed thousands of transactions with positive feedback from customers. 

Castro decided to move his trade away from the Dark Web last year and told clients that purchases could be made via encrypted email — but a fee up-front was required to connect. An undercover officer paid the fee and placed a number of orders. 

The co-conspirator, Luis Fernandez, then shipped the drugs to the police officer during the sting, leading to Castro’s arrest. 

Castro’s clients paid in Bitcoin (BTC) and these proceeds were stashed in seven cryptocurrency wallets. The dealer also laundered his funds through the purchase of valuable assets and a huge amount of Zimbabwe banknotes. Prosecutors say “approximately 100 quadrillion notes” were purchased through the drug sales. 

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Castro entered a plea agreement. Under the terms of the deal, the defendant has agreed to forfeit $4,156,198.18 in cryptocurrency. 

Castro pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to distribute and possess with the intent to distribute three controlled substances — carfentanil, phenyl fentanyl, and fentanyl — as well as one count of money laundering. 

Under US law, Castro faces a minimum sentence of 10 years in prison and a maximum sentence of life for drug distribution as well as a sentence of up to 20 years behind bars for money laundering. 

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“As he admitted today, for years, Richard Castro used the Dark Web to distribute prolific quantities of powerful opioids, including fentanyl and carfentanil,” said Manhattan US Attorney Geoffrey Berman. “Castro thought he could hide behind the anonymity of the Internet, and use online pseudonyms to deal drugs.”

Sentencing has been scheduled for 25 October 2019. 

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