Defendants Received Over $8 Million in Kickbacks from Purchases of Contraband on Darknet Marketplaces
An Israeli national was sentenced yesterday to 97 months in prison for operating DeepDotWeb (DDW), a website that connected internet users with Darknet marketplaces, where they purchased illegal firearms, malware and hacking tools, stolen financial data, heroin, fentanyl and other illicit materials.
The sentence was issued to Tal Prihar, an Israeli national, by a judge of the District Court for the Western District of Pennsylvania. The judgment from the court ordered Prihar to forfeit $8.4 million in cash, along with an ASUS laptop, a black iPhone, and his accounts at cryptocurrency exchanges Binance, Kraken and OKCoin.
According to court documents, Tal Prihar, 37, an Israeli citizen residing in Brazil, pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit money laundering in March 2021. Beginning in October 2013, Prihar owned and operated DDW, along with co-defendant Michael Phan, 34, of Israel. In addition to providing general information about the Darknet, DDW provided users with direct links to illegal Darknet marketplaces, which are not accessible through traditional search engines.
The DeepDotWeb site didn’t host anything malicious or harmful but directly linked to various dark web marketplaces selling illegal goods.
It also had a news section informing visitors of the status of various Tor sites, what’s hot in each area of interest, and featured website reviews.
Although the platform was seemingly operating within a legal context, investigators of the FBI found that it was receiving kickbacks for linking to dark web markets selling illegal goods, such as illicit firearms, malware and hacking tools, drugs, and financial information.
For providing these links, Prihar and Phan received kickback payments from the marketplaces in the form of virtual currency, including approximately 8,155 bitcoins (worth approximately $8.4 million at the time of the transactions). To conceal the nature and source of these illegal kickback payments, Prihar transferred the payments from his DDW bitcoin wallet to other bitcoin accounts and to bank accounts he controlled in the names of shell companies. DDW was seized by federal authorities in April 2019, and Prihar has agreed to forfeit $8,414,173. Phan remains abroad and is currently undergoing extradition proceedings in Israel.
Assistant Attorney General Kenneth A. Polite Jr. of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division and U.S. Attorney Cindy K. Chung for the Western District of Pennsylvania made the announcement.
The FBI’s Pittsburgh Field Office investigated the case.