A federal grand jury in Maryland has indicted two men on charges of manufacturing illegal drugs and selling them in return for bitcoin.
According to a Tuesday announcement from the Maryland District of the Department of Justice, Ryan Farace and Robert Swain allegedly manufactured and distributed a generic form of the drug Xanax, and sold it through the dark web in exchange for bitcoin.
According to the release, between November of 2013 and June of 2017, Farace is said to have purchased equipment to manufacture the pills, solicited orders from different dark web marketplaces, and shipped the pills using prepaid debit cards that were issued under the names and personal information of other people. The announcement also states that between May 10, 2016, and January 31, 2017, Farace allegedly distributed and possessed more than 6,900 generic Xanax pills with the intent to sell.
If found guilty, Farace could receive a maximum of 60 years in prison. Swain, on the other hand, is only accused of money laundering at this time, which carries a maximum sentence of 20 years.
To date, the US government has seized approximately $17 million in bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies, computer equipment worth about $2.5 million, and more than $1.5 million in fiat money from the defendants. However, officials are still seeking to obtain $5,665,00 in cash, the value of 4,000 bitcoin, two residences, and two vehicles that are believed to have been used to distribute the illegal drug.
This indictment is part of a year-long campaign named Operation Dark Gold, in which many different government entities, including the US Department of Homeland Security, the Money Laundering and Asset Recovery Section of the Department of Justice's Criminal Division, and the United States Secret Service, came together to target vendors who use the dark web to sell their illicit goods. According to the announcement:
"Since its inception more than one year ago, Operation Dark Gold has led to the opening of more than 90 active cases around the country. Numerous individuals have been arrested and charged, and the operation has resulted in the seizure of weapons, drugs, virtual currency proceeds, United States currency, and computer equipment."
Crime related to cryptocurrency has been an ongoing concern of law enforcement. In November 2017, a former Secret Service agent was indicted on charges of money laundering and stealing government-seized bitcoin. In June of the same year, it was reported that the European Union had established an international group intended to combat unlawful use of cryptocurrencies, and just last week, the Department of Justice announced it had extradited Roger Thomas Clark for the role he played in maintaining the dark web marketplace known as Silk Road.