A multinational police force last week arrested eight men on suspicion of running a secret online store called "The Farmer's Market" that sold more than $1 million worth of narcotics, including LSD, ecstasy, fentanyl, mescaline, ketamine, DMT, and high-end marijuana.
According to a 66-page, 12-count indictment that was unsealed last Monday, The Farmer's Market provided a fully functional e-commerce experience, including a storefront, order forms, online forums, customer service, and various payment methods for the different sources of supply.
The indictment alleges that The Farmer's Market, which was previously known as Adamflowers, hid its tracks by operating on the Tor network.
Tor, a free, open-source program, bestows online anonymity via a circuit of multilayered, encrypted connections routed through a worldwide volunteer network of servers in order to conceal a user's location or usage from anyone conducting network surveillance or traffic analysis.
The bust was led by the US Drug Enforcement Administration and was the result of "Operation Adam Bomb", that had spanned more than two years and included help from from authorities in the Netherlands, Columbia, and Scotland; and federal, state, and local US authorities in New York, Iowa, Georgia, Florida, New Hampshire, Pennsylvania, Michigan and New Jersey.
The indictment charges that The Farmer's Market was paid through Western Union, Pecunix, PayPal, I-Golder, and in cash.
A press release from the DEA said that between January 2007 and October 2009 alone, two of the defendants processed some 5,256 orders valued at about $1,041,244, via the gang's multiple marketplaces.
Customers came from some 34 countries and all 50 US states.
On the morning of April 16, police in Lelystad, Netherlands, arrested the lead defendant, Marc Willems, at his home.
The day before, police in Bogota, Colombia, arrested the second defendant, Michael Evron, a United States citizen who lives in Argentina, as he tried to leave Colombia.
The other suspects were Jonathan Colbeck, Brian Colbeck, Ryan Rawls, Jonathan Dugan, George Matzek, and Charles Bigras. They were arrested at their respective homes in the US: Iowa, Michigan, Georgia, New York, New Jersey, and Florida.
According to the DEA, the marketplace operators screened all sources of supply and guaranteed delivery of the drugs, also handling all communications between their suppliers and customers.
For that, the operators charged a commission, based on order value.
Each defendant is charged with conspiracy to distribute controlled substances, which carries a maximum sentence of life imprisonment, and money laundering conspiracy, which carries a maximum sentence of 20 years imprisonment.
Willems, Evron, Jonathan Colbeck, Brian Colbeck, and Rawls have also been charged with the distribution of LSD, which carries a maximum sentence of life imprisonment.
Willems and Evron are charged with participating in a continuing criminal enterprise, which carries a maximum sentence of life imprisonment and a mandatory, minimum 20-year sentence.
Requisite law and order blurb: As Mr. Mackey's character has said on the US cartoon South Park, "Drugs are bad. Don't do drugs. They're bad. OK?"
Bite of common sense: If you're anti-drugs, that's fine, but don't be anti-Tor just because of this bust.
The Tor Project was awarded the Free Software Foundation's 2010 Award for Projects of Social Benefit for enabling roughly 36 million people around the world to, as the FSF's statement says, "experience freedom of access and expression on the internet while keeping them in control of their privacy and anonymity."
As the FSF pointed out, the Tor network proved "pivotal" to dissident movements in Iran and Egypt.
Because of Tor, people can join chat rooms and forums to discuss sensitive, private issues, including rape, abuse or illness.
Tor is making it into the headlines about this case, but let's not forget about the good that the network enables.Follow @LisaVaas