Operators of Online Drug Ring Arrested in Global Sweep

The alleged ringleader of an online marketplace for illegal drugs was arrested Monday in Lelystad, Netherlands, capping two days of arrests and the indictment of eight men on federal drug trafficking and money laundering charges.

The men, who range in age from 20 to 51, are charged with creating and operating an underground online narcotics exchange called the The Farmer's Market, which authorities said sold illegal drugs, including LSD, mescaline and ketamine, to 3,000 customers. According to the indictment, there were buyers in every U.S. state and in 34 other countries.

The accused reportedly facilitated drug transactions between independent suppliers and individual buyers. The men provided an online storefront, order forms, payment options including PayPal and Western Union, according to the Department of Justice. The cybercriminals also screened the drugs for quality and provided customer service. They kept a cut of each sale.

The ring allegedly used the anonymizing system TOR to evade detection.

The operators, suppliers, and customers primarily communicated with one another on the Farmer's Market website using internal private messaging.

Six of the eight men charged with participating in the cybercrime ring are U.S. citizens living in the United States. Michael Evron, 42, who was arrested attempting to leave Colombia, is a U.S. citizen but lives in Argentina. Marc Willems, 42, the alleged ringleader, is Dutch.

Seven others -- two in the Netherlands and five in the United States -- were arrested but have not been charged.

The arrests are the culmination of a two-year investigation, code-named Operation Adam Bomb, led by the Drug Enforcement Administration's Los Angeles Field Division. Law enforcement officials in several U.S. states, the Netherlands, and Colombia cooperated.

"Today's action should send a clear message to organizations that are using technology to conduct criminal activity that the DEA and our law enforcement partners will track them down and bring them to justice," said Briane M. Grey of the DEA.

Cameron Scott covers search, web services and privacy for The IDG News Service. Follow Cameron on Twitter at CScott_IDG.

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