French-Israeli man in US beard contest pleads guilty in drug case

French-Israeli man in US beard contest pleads guilty in drug case

Gal Vallerius addresses Miami court in Hebrew as he confesses to being an online international narcotics kingpin

A general view of the Wilkie D. Ferguson Jr. US Federal Courthouse as seen in Miami, Florida on June 12, 2018. (RHONA WISE/AFP)
A general view of the Wilkie D. Ferguson Jr. US Federal Courthouse as seen in Miami, Florida on June 12, 2018. (RHONA WISE/AFP)

MIAMI — A French-Israeli man arrested when he arrived in the United States for a world beard-growing championship pleaded guilty in Miami federal court Tuesday to participating in worldwide online illicit drug sales using the alias “OxyMonster.”

Gal Vallerius, 36, arrived in federal court handcuffed and wearing a tan prison uniform and a matching beige yarmulke, but also smiling and joking with his lawyer. He was joined by a Hebrew interpreter.

Vallerius pleaded guilty to drug distribution conspiracy and money laundering charges. Vallerius admitted he first sold and then began orchestrating online sales of cocaine, methamphetamine, fentanyl, oxycodone and other drugs on a dark web site known as the Dream Market.

Court documents describe Dream Market as one of the largest criminal sites where anonymous buyers and sellers do transactions using bitcoin and other virtual currencies. Three days before Vallerius was arrested in August 2017, authorities say there were more than 94,000 listings on Dream Market — including some 47,000 illegal drug listings.

Vallerius, who sports a long brownish-red beard, was already under investigation by the US Drug Enforcement Administration when he was detained at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport while en route from Paris to the World Moustache and Beard Championships in Austin, Texas. He had entered the full-beard category.

At the hearing, Vallerius admitted he initially began as a Dream Market vendor selling oxycodone and Ritalin using the “OxyMonster” name. Then he was hired to act as an administrator and moderator of Dream Market to facilitate the illegal transactions, according to court documents.

“Guilty,” Vallerius, who is from the Brittany region of France, said in Hebrew through a court interpreter.

Undercover DEA agents made numerous purchases through Dream Market of drugs such as crystal methamphetamine, LSD and hydrocodone. The drugs were shipped via mail to various addresses in the Miami area.

DEA also discovered that Vallerius, who once finished eighth in an international facial hair competition in Austria, had Instagram and Twitter accounts. They compared the writing style of “OxyMonster” on the Dream Market forum to the writing style of Vallerius on his social media accounts.

“Agents discovered many similarities in the use of words and punctuation, including: the word “cheers,” double exclamation marks, frequent use of quotation marks, and intermittent French posts,” court documents say.

Agents were later able to link Vallerius to Dream Market through searches of his laptop computer and other electronic devices seized at the Atlanta airport.

The laptop had a TOR browser that enables anonymous communications as well as log-in credentials for Dream Market, $500,000 worth of bitcoin, and an encryption key that matched OxyMonster’s, authorities said.

Bitcoin. (AFP Photo/Karen Bleier)

Under the plea agreement, Vallerius agreed to forfeit all profits from his online sales, including his substantial bitcoin earnings.

Prosecutors and defense attorneys agreed to recommend that US District Judge Robert Scola impose a 20-year prison sentence for Vallerius, but he could get time shaved off through his agreement to cooperate in further investigation of the online drug sales.

In addition, Vallerius may serve some of his sentence in Great Britain, France or Israel — he is a citizen of all three nations — under an international prisoner transfer program.

“They have to agree,” said defense attorney Anthony Natale. “At this point we don’t know which specific country.”

Vallerius mainly spoke to answer the judge’s questions, but added that he was saddened he could not remain in the US because of his felony convictions.

“It is unfortunate … I cannot enjoy this beautiful country and everything it has to offer,” he said.

Scola is scheduled to sentence Vallerius on September 25.

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