Hundreds Arrested in Massive ‘Dark Web’ Drug Sting, DOJ Says

By Published on May 3, 2023

A joint team of U.S. and international law enforcement officials conducted a global operation to disrupt the darknet trafficking of fentanyl, resulting in record seizures and arrests, according to a Tuesday Department of Justice (DOJ) press release.

The DOJ’s Joint Criminal Opioid and Darknet Enforcement (JCODE) team conducted year-long targeting of fentanyl and opioid trafficking on the darknet that crossed three continents. The global operation resulted in over 100 prosecutions throughout 30 federal districts, according to the press release.

The JCODE’s “Operation SpecTor” resulted in 288 arrests, the seizure of 117 firearms, 850 kilograms of drugs with 64 kilograms of fentanyl or fentanyl-laced drugs included, and over $53 million in currency. The law enforcement operatives came from multiple U.S. federal agencies, including the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), DOJ, and multiple additional agencies, including international counterparts, according to the press release.

“The illicit movement of opioids poses a significant threat to public health and safety — whether by known transnational criminal gang members across international borders or anonymously through darknet spaces,” said P.J. Lechleitner, the acting deputy director of DHS’ Homeland Security Investigations (HSI), in the release. “Our HSI special agents, alongside federal and international partners, continue to aggressively investigate, disrupt, and dismantle networks responsible for trafficking dangerous, deadly narcotics and other contraband across global communities we are charged with protecting. We will continue to pursue bad actors engaged in these crimes to ensure they face justice, while protecting victims from these lethal substances.”

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“Our coalition of law enforcement authorities across three continents proves that we all do better when we work together,” said Catherine De Bolle, the executive director of the European Union Agency for Law Enforcement Cooperation (Europol). “This operation sends a strong message to criminals on the dark web: international law enforcement has the means and the ability to identify and hold you accountable for your illegal activities, even on the dark web.”

The joint effort relied on intelligence from the JCODE and Europol’s European Cybercrime Centre (EC3) to identify darknet drug vendors and buyers, including the Mexican cartels, according to the press release.

“The Sinaloa and Jalisco drug cartels and the global networks they operate are killing Americans by sending fentanyl into the United States. Their associates distribute this fentanyl into communities across America by every means possible, including the dark web,” said Anne Milgram, DEA administrator, according to the press release.


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