Two men have been charged in a Chicago federal court for operating “Empire Market,” a dark web marketplace that facilitated over $430 million in illegal transactions between February 2018 and August 2020.

Empire Market was a popular dark web marketplace that sold illegal drugs, chemicals, jewelry, credit card numbers, counterfeit money bills, malware, and other illicit goods, offering payment options including Monero, Litecoin, and Bitcoin.

The marketplace abruptly shut down in 2020 amid persistent extortion-based DDoS waves without giving its users time to perform withdrawals from their account escrow, prompting exit scam allegations.

Operators charged

According to the indictment released by the U.S. Department of Justice (DoJ) late last week, Thomas Pavey (aka “Dopenugget”) and Raheim Hamilton (aka “Sydney” and “Zero Angel”) were previously involved in selling counterfeit U.S. currency on AlphaBay before starting Empire Market.

Through Empire, the two facilitated over 4 million transactions valued at over $430,000,000, allowing thousands of users to sell and buy stolen items, credit cards, heroin, methamphetamine, cocaine, LSD, and others.

The transactions involved cryptocurrency combined with tumbling services to obfuscate the source and destination and evade law enforcement.

Pavey and Hamilton paid themselves by retaining portions of cryptocurrency transactions on Empire Market and used the funds to pay themselves and a team of moderators on the market.

The two marketplace operators now face charges for five counts, summarized as follows:

  • Conspiracy to sell counterfeit U.S. currency on AlphaBay.
  • Conspiracy to distribute controlled substances through Empire Market.
  • Conspiracy to possess unauthorized access devices.
  • Conspiracy to sell counterfeit currency on Empire Market.
  • Conspiracy to commit money laundering to conceal proceeds from illegal activities.

Given the nature and number of charges, if convicted on all counts, Pavey and Hamilton could face life in prison, particularly due to the drug trafficking charges, which have a mandatory minimum sentence of 10 years.

Additionally, if convicted, Pavey and Hamilton must forfeit any property derived from the proceeds of their crimes, including personal property. If original assets are beyond reach, substitute assets will be sought.

The U.S. DoJ announcement also mentions that investigations have already led to the seizure of $75,000,000 worth of cryptocurrency, as well as cash and precious metals.

No details were shared about when the arrests occurred and whether the abrupt 2020 shutdown of the Empire Market was due to law enforcement action.

Source link