A father and son are facing federal charges in the US for allegedly running a criminal operation which sold opiates – including fentanyl and oxycodone – over the dark web.
Michael Luciano, 58, and Philip Luciano, 29, both of Staten Island, allegedly conspired to distribute, and possess with the intent to distribute, fentanyl and oxycodone from February 2016 through July 2017, the US Department of Justice (DoJ) said in a complaint this week (23 August).
The pair reportedly used the vendor name "Zane61" to run the illicit drugs business from underground markets including AlphaBay – which was recently dismantled by a global law enforcement operation featuring Europol, the FBI and the Dutch Police.
Fentanyl is a synthetic opioid which tests significantly stronger than heroin and has become a major contributor to overdose fatalities around the world.
According to the DoJ, undercover Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) officers purchased fentanyl from the Zane61 AlphaBay account in June 2017.
The next month, after tracking the parcels, agents then executed a search warrant to the residence where the fentanyl shipments had been received. Michael was "medically prescribed" with fentanyl patches due to an injury and also sold them on the dark web, the DoJ said.
Agents spoke with Michael Luciano who reportedly admitted that he and his son Philip ran the operation. Philip, he claimed, knew how to use the dark web, had set up the accounts and was largely tasked with the "technological aspects" of the scheme, including buying bitcoins.
The father reportedly admitted that he had started ordering fentanyl online from China two years ago because it was cheap - about $1,000 for 100 grams.
When an order would come in, the father would take the drug filled packages to a local post office where he handed them to a postal cashier using a fake return address, the DoJ said.
Police recovered a mobile phone and iPad from the pair's home which allegedly contained evidence of drug dealing including "messages referencing their joint drug-dealing operation, photographs of fentanyl patches and oxycodone pills, and websites associated with bitcoins".
Bitcoin is a popular cryptocurrency, which is another term for digital money.
Police investigators revealed that the father and son had built up a good reputation on AlphaBay, with one user posting a review stating: "Great stealth, fast shipping, legit product. Perfect 10/10." Such markets typically work like Amazon or eBay and have a rating system in place.
"Fentanyl and other deadly opioids continue to plague far too many American communities because the unscrupulous dealers believe their surreptitious online activities escape the reach of law enforcement," said HSI special agent-in-charge Angel Melendez.
"The arrests of these two defendants prove that notion false. HSI and our partners are proud to be at the forefront of combating illegal activities on the [dark web]," Melendez added.
The DoJ said the pair are each charged with one count of conspiracy to distribute and possess with the intent to distribute two controlled substances – fentanyl and oxycodone.
The fentanyl charge has a maximum sentence of 40 years in prison and the oxycodone charge carries a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison, the DoJ added.
Investigators did not reveal how much money the pair had netted from the drug sales in total.
US Postal Inspection Service (USPIS) inspector-in-charge, Philip Bartlett, said: "Fentanyl is a societal scourge powerful enough to rob the lives of those who use in an instant.
"Today's arrest of this father and son should serve as a strong reminder the anonymity of the dark web can't always protect you from the long arm of the law. Postal Inspectors and their law enforcement partners are committed to rooting out those who choose to deal in this deadly opioid."
This month (2 August), the UK's National Crime Agency (NCA), the British equivalent of the FBI, said that the fentanyl opioid had been linked to at least 60 deaths within the last year.