Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

2 Israelis Indicted in Online Operation Referral Service Gave Access to Drug Buys

Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

2 Israelis Indicted in Online Operation Referral Service Gave Access to Drug Buys

Article excerpt

Two Israeli citizens who owned and operated DeepDotWeb, an online referral service providing access to the dark web for illegal drug purchases around the world, have been indicted in Pittsburgh on money-laundering counts.

U.S. Attorney Scott Brady, joined by Department of Justice officials, the FBI and law enforcement agents from Brazil and Israel, said Wednesday that the case is the "single most significant law enforcement disruption of the dark net to date."

The site has been seized and shut down by a court order out of Pittsburgh, and the two defendants, Tal Prihar and Michael Phan, are in custody.

"This case represents the first takedown of the very infrastructure that supports and promotes illegal marketplaces where fentanyl and other illegal drugs are sold on the dark web," Mr. Brady said at a press conference at the U.S. courthouse.

Mr. Prihar, 37, an Israeli citizen living in Brazil, was arrested May 6 by French authorities in Paris. Mr. Phan, 34, who was living in Israel, was arrested there on the same day on Israeli charges. The men are accused of laundering some $15 million in kickbacks they received for purchases of fentanyl, heroin, cocaine and other drugs by customers who were referred to dark web marketplaces by DeepDotWeb.

The case was brought in Pittsburgh because of a confluence of factors, Mr. Brady said, most notably the opioid epidemic plaguing the region and the local FBI's well-establishedexpertise in international cybercrime investigation. The Joint Criminal Opioid and Darknet Enforcement Team, which former Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced in Pittsburgh in 2018, works out of the FBI office and targets illegal drug sales on encrypted websites globally.

Authorities said Mr. Prihar and Mr. Phan referred hundreds of thousands of users to dark net marketplaces such as AlphaBay, Agora, Abraxas, Hansa and others. …

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