Richard Castro, a prolific darknet drug dealer, has pleaded guilty to Bitcoin money laundering and conspiracy to distribute controlled substances.
Castro faces a minimum of 10 years in prison for “conspiracy to distribute and possess with the intent to distribute” three controlled substances.
He also faces additional prison time for the money laundering charge, which carries a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison.
As part of his plea agreement, Castro also agreed to forfeit US$4,156,198.18 in ill-gotten funds, including the contents of his seven Bitcoin wallets.
Major narcotics player
Between November 2015 and March 2019, Castro reportedly conducted more than 3,200 illicit transactions on various darknet web sites, including AlphaBay and Dream Market.
Castro went by several monikers when conducting his narcotics business, including Chemusa, Chems_usa, Chemical_usa, and Jagger109.
Prosecutors say Castro conspired to distribute carfentanil, fentanyl, and phenyl fentanyl on the dark web in return for Bitcoin payments.
Carfentanil is a fentanyl analogue that is 100 times more potent than fentanyl, which is itself much stronger than heroin.
Once paid, Castro laundered millions of dollars worth of Bitcoins through numerous wallets and by buying roughly 100 quadrillion Zimbabwe banknotes.
Done in by an email
Ultimately, Castro was caught after making the decision to move his business off the darknet marketplaces he had been using.
His new business plan was to sell drugs only to customers who would contact him via encrypted emails, but people had to pay a fee to get his off-market email address.
An undercover narcotics agent paid the fee and received the new email address, which was then used to facilitate several transactions with Castro.
“Castro thought he could hide behind the anonymity of the internet, and use online pseudonyms to deal drugs – like ‘Chems_usa’ and ‘Chemical_usa.’ Thanks to our law enforcement partners, ‘Chems_usa’ is now in U.S. prison,” said Manhattan U.S. Attorney Geoffrey S. Berman.
Courts are busy
It’s been a hectic time for U.S. law enforcement when it comes to darknet operatives.
Another major narcotics trafficker, Brian Haney, was recently arrested for selling drugs on the infamous Silk Road and trying to launder $19 million in bitcoins.
Haney is facing up to 10 years for an illicit financial transaction charge and up to 20 years in prison for money laundering.
Gary Davis, a former employee of Bitcoin.com, was just sentenced to 78 months in prison for being an administrator for Silk Road and Silk Road 2.0.
Davis was extradited from Ireland to the United States where he eventually pleaded guilty to narcotics conspiracy last October.
The overall message gained from these events is that it may take law enforcement time to track darknet criminals down, but they do eventually bring such people to justice.