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Feds bust online drug market in international sting

April 16, 2012 |  4:12 pm

Operators running an online narcotics marketplace through an anonymous virtual network facilitated sales of illegal drugs to 3,000 people in 34 countries and every single state in the U.S., according to a federal indictment unsealed Monday in Los Angeles.

Authorities made arrests on three continents in connection with the case.

The online narcotics network, known as “The Farmer's Market,” processed more than $1 million in sales in less than three years and offered a variety of illicit substances including Ecstasy, LSD and high-end marijuana, according to authorities. The marketplace was allegedly operated on Tor, a network that allows users to mask IP addresses through encryption, which kept sellers and customers anonymous.

The creators and operators of the marketplace screened the suppliers and guaranteed delivery of the goods, receiving a commission from the sales, according to the U.S. attorney's office in Los Angeles, which is prosecuting the case.

Lead defendant Marc Willems, a Dutch national, was arrested by local law enforcement at his home in Lelystad, Netherlands. A second defendant, an American living in Argentina, was arrested as he was leaving Bogota, Colombia.

Also indicted were six others living throughout the U.S. Those six either acted as suppliers of the illegal substances or as “cash drops” for laundering proceeds. Payments were made through services including Western Union and PayPal and routed through overseas locations such as Budapest, Hungary, and Panama, according to court papers.

The defendants face charges of conspiracy to distribute controlled substances and conspiracy to launder money. The distribution charge carries a maximum of life imprisonment, authorities said.

During the arrest, law enforcement officers seized hashish, LSD and, Ecstasy and found plots of psychotropic mushrooms and marijuana, according to federal prosecutors.


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-- Victoria Kim