FRANKFURT (Reuters) - Three German nationals accused of running one of the world’s largest dark web sites for selling drugs and other contraband have been arrested and charged in two countries following a two-year investigation, U.S. prosecutors said on Friday.
A fourth man who allegedly acted as a moderator and promoter for the site, Wall Street Market, was taken into custody in Brazil, according to federal prosecutors in California.
“Darknet” and “dark web” refer to networks and sites hidden from most internet visitors and accessible only to users shrouded in anonymity.
“While they lurk in the deepest corners of the internet, this case shows that we can hunt down these criminals wherever they hide,” U.S. Attorney Nick Hanna said in a written statement announcing the charges.
Tibo Lousee, Klaus-Martin Frost and Jonathan Kalla are accused of running Wall Street Market for nearly three years, providing a darknet platform for the sale of narcotics, counterfeit goods and hacking software to 1.1 million customers.
The men, known to U.S., Dutch and German investigators by the monikers “coder420,” “Kronos” and “TheOne,” also face charges in Germany.
Prosecutors in Frankfurt said that the country’s federal criminal investigation office, or Bundeskriminalamt, had secured the platform’s server infrastructure.
In December 2017, a Florida resident died from using a nasal spray laced with the opioid fentanyl sold by one of the roughly 5,400 vendors on Wall Street Market, according to the criminal complaint. That vendor was convicted in U.S. District Court in Wisconsin and sentenced to 12 years in prison.
Among the site’s top vendors were two people based in Los Angeles: “Ladyskywalker,” who sold opiates such as fentanyl, oxycodone and hydrocodone; and “Platinum45,” who dealt in methamphetamine, oxycodone and Adderall.
The people operating both of those accounts have also been arrested, according to the criminal complaint. Their names were not made public.
As investigators closed in last month the operators of Wall Street Market conducted an “exit scam” - making off with an estimated $11 million in virtual currency belonging to customers, prosecutors say, before they were taken into custody in Germany.
Cyber specialists at the Bundeskriminalamt started taking “operational measures” after the suspects switched the platform into maintenance mode on April 23 and started transferring the customer funds to themselves, German prosecutors said.
Marcos Paulo De Oliveira-Annibale, 29, was arrested in Brazil and accused of being the site moderator known online as “MED3LIN.”
Prosecutors say they were able to identify Oliveira-Annibale by connecting his online persona with forum comments and pictures he posted years earlier.
Reporting by Dan Whitcomb in Los Angeles and Paul Carrel in Frankfurt; Editing by Bill Tarrant and Matthew Lewis