NEW YORK — Two Israelis who allegedly created a website to broker drug deals on the dark net were indicted by US authorities Wednesday as part of an international crackdown on the internet underground.
US prosecutors in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania unveiled charges against Tal Prihar, 37, and Michael Phan, 34, for operating the website DeepDotWeb, over which they allegedly made referrals for people seeking illicit drugs to dark net marketplaces and earned millions of dollars in commissions.
The indictment came one week after German police working with Europol, the FBI and Dutch police shut down the largest ever such marketplace for illegal goods, “Wall Street Market,” and arrested the three Germans who operated it.
DeepDotWeb was a central node in the ecosystem of the dark net, a user-friendly search and marketing website that helped buyers of illicit goods like drugs and counterfeit items find what they wanted for a commission.
It was a valuable middleman for multiple dark net marketplaces, which operate on the Tor network and don’t appear in regular internet searches.
DeepDotWeb accounted for 23 percent of all orders fulfilled on AlphaBay and 47% of those on Hansa, two major dark net marketplaces closed down by law enforcement in 2017, according to US prosecutors.
It was also important in sending business to Wall Street Market, the Hansa successor shut down last week.
Running DeepDotWeb since October 2013, Prihar and Phan raked in some $15 million dollars in commissions on deals for illegal fentanyl, heroin, and other drugs, according to Pittsburgh federal district attorney Scott Brady.
The transactions used virtual currencies like bitcoin and Prihar and Phan moved their profits through shell companies to hide the funds.
The indictment said the FBI has now taken over the website, two days after Phan was arrested in Israel and Prihar, who resided in Brazil, was arrested in Paris.
The pair were charged by a grand jury with conspiracy to launder money.
Brady called shutting down DeepDotWeb “the single most significant law enforcement disruption of the dark net to date.”
“While there have been successful prosecutions of various dark net marketplaces, this prosecution is the first to attack the infrastructure supporting the dark net itself,” he said.
The takedown of DeepDotWeb was made possible by cooperation among law enforcement authorities in the United States, Brazil, Israel, Germany, Netherlands, and Britain.
“This is a problem that is transnational and the solutions are transnational,” said Deputy Assistant Attorney General Richard Downing.