May 8, 2019 / 7:46 PM / 16 days ago

U.S. indicts operators of 'dark web' drug referral service

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. prosecutors have filed money laundering charges against two Israelis who allegedly made millions of dollars operating a website connecting customers to sellers of fentanyl, heroin, guns and other illegal goods, the Justice Department said on Wednesday.

It said Tal Prihar, an Israeli living in Brazil, and Michael Phan, an Israeli living in Israel, owned and operated a website known as “DeepDotWeb,” or DDW.

Robert Johnson, an assistant director of the FBI, said DDW operated for years as a “key gateway to the criminal underbelly” of the so-called dark web, or Darknet, economy.

Scott Brady, the U.S. attorney in Pittsburgh, where the federal charges were filed, called the case the “single most significant law enforcement disruption of the Darknet to date.”

The indictment alleges that the DDW referral service operated by Prihar and Phan connected hundreds of thousands of users to dark web marketplaces not accessible through traditional search engines which sold drugs including cocaine, heroin, crystal methamphetamine and fentanyl as well as assault rifles, hacking tools, stolen credit cards and other contraband.

Investigators said Prihar and Phan received millions of dollars in kickbacks in the form of commissions on the proceeds of each sale resulting from a referral their website made to a dark web marketplace. Prihar was the administrator of DDW, and Phan was its technical expert.

The Justice Department said Prihar was arrested by French authorities in Paris on May 6 based on a U.S. request, while Phan was arrested in Israel on the same day on Israeli charges. A federal official said it was not clear how the U.S. prosecutors would move forward with their charges while the defendants remain outside the country.

Reporting by Mark Hosenball; editing by Jonathan Oatis

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