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Operation targeting Darknet drug traffickers nets dozens of arrest worldwide, officials say

WASHINGTON – Federal officials have arrested and charged dozens of people believed to have trafficked drugs in the USA and other countries through Darknet sites, the Justice Department announced Tuesday.

Investigators have seized more than $6.5 million in cash and virtual currencies, as well as 500 kilograms of drugs worldwide, including more than 200 kilograms of heroin, cocaine, and various kinds of opioids – a haul that officials said made a significant dent in online drug trafficking.

Darknet sites, which exist on encrypted networks and aren't easily accessible, have enabled drug traffickers to create a new kind of "criminal underworld" that allowed them to sell and advertise from anywhere in the world, Deputy Attorney General Jeffrey Rosen said

"For an increasing number of young addicts, opioids are purchased not from local dealers but from pushers online," Rosen said. "Hiding behind anonymizing software known as Tor, a new sort of drug kingpin now is able to reach more buyers than ever before, through online marketplaces peddling every sort of illicit good and service imaginable."

Prescription oxycodone pills.

The announcement comes as the coronavirus pandemic has fueled the country's opioid crisis, with several states reporting more fatal overdoses in the past few months. FBI Director Christopher Wray said drug traffickers have increasingly leveraged Darknet sites as the virus took hold in the country. 

"With the spike in opioid-related overdose deaths during the COVID-19 pandemic, we recognize that today's announcement is important and timely," Wray said.

The nine-month investigation, dubbed Operation DisrupTor, led to 121 arrests in the U.S. and 58 in Europe, officials said. 

Among those arrested was a California-based crew linked to more than 18,000 illegal drug sales to customers in 35 states. Members of the group used online names such as "Stealthgod" to sell methamphetamine and MDMA online, officials said. Some have already pleaded guilty to drug trafficking charges, while one remains on the run.

In Ohio, officials said they shut down a drug trafficking organization that operated under the moniker "Pill Cosby" and sold over 1 million pills laced with fentanyl. 

In Virginia, a drug trafficker under the name "NeverPressedRX" conspired to bomb and destroy and competitor's pharmacy, officials said.

A man from Canada was indicted in Atlanta for fentanyl trafficking that has been linked to multiple overdoses in the U.S.

Officials said several investigations are still ongoing.