The administrator of a website that served as a gateway to dark web marketplaces for purchasing heroin, firearms and hacking tools pleaded guilty to money laundering charges on Wednesday.
The Justice Department said that Tal Prihar administered DeepDotWeb, where he received $8.4 million in kickbacks from dark web marketplaces for providing prospective customers with direct links to those sites, which sold illegal goods but weren’t easily found via search engines. When law enforcement indicted Prihar and an alleged co-conspirator in 2019, authorities hailed it as “the single most significant law enforcement disruption of the Darknet to date.”
French law enforcement captured Prihar, an Israeli native who had lived in Brazil. Israeli law enforcement arrested the alleged co-owner of the site, Michael Phan, who handled day-to-day operations. U.S. authorities previously seized DeepDotWeb.
“For six years, DeepDotWeb was a gateway to facilitate the illegal purchase of items to include dangerous drugs, weapons, and malicious software,” said acting Special Agent in Charge Carlton Peeples of the FBI’s Pittsburgh field office. “Prihar profited as a byproduct from other people’s dangerous transactions and today’s guilty plea sends a message to other cyber actors across the globe who think the dark web is a safe haven.”
DOJ said that Prihar and Phan received their payments via virtual currency, then concealed the source by transferring payments from a bitcoin wallet to shell company bitcoin and bank accounts.
Prihar faces up to 20 years in prison for conspiracy to commit money laundering.
In recent years authorities have had some success in shuttering dark web commerce, ranging from the September 2020 arrest of 179 alleged drug traffickers to other arrests carried out in connection with the 2019 shutdown of Wall Street Market and Valhalla Marketplace.
Clarification, 4/1/21: The description of DeepDotWeb was made more precise.