Four men were arrested in Las Vegas on suspicion of distributing cocaine, part of a wider international investigation that resulted in 150 arrests.
The U.S. Justice Department announced the arrests on Tuesday, saying the investigation led to the seizure of more than $31.6 million in cash and virtual currency.
According to a criminal complaint filed in the District of Nevada, four suspects were identified as Paul Engstrom, Vincent Cuomo, Abraham Elliott and Joseph Krieger.
A special agent with the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration wrote in the complaint that an enforcement group had been investigating a drug trafficking and money laundering operation since October last year.
The group learned the four suspects were allegedly using the dark web to distribute cocaine, according to the complaint. In addition, Engstrom allegedly made several large cryptocurrency-to-cash transactions to hide the proceeds.
DEA agents surveilled Engstrom, who had a previous conviction for conspiracy to distribute a controlled substance. They determined he, Cuomo and Elliott were using stash houses in the Las Vegas valley to receive and package cocaine, with Krieger acting as their runner to drop envelopes in the mail, according to the complaint.
Agents seized a total of 44 envelopes during the investigation, and all tested positive for the presence of cocaine. The total amount of cocaine recovered was more than 5 kilograms, the complaint states.
Postal investigators determined the method of delivery was similar to a prior case from 2019 in which someone sold cocaine over the dark web. The DEA made undercover purchases and confirmed the purchases were coming from the dark web.
The DEA executed a search warrant on two of the stash houses in June and found 6,800 grams of a white substance that appeared to be cocaine.
A federal grand jury returned an indictment in July for all four suspects on charges of distribution, conspiracy to distribute, and possession with intent to distribute of a controlled substance, plus money laundering conspiracy and aiding and abetting.
“This 10-month massive international law enforcement operation spanned across three continents and involved dozens of U.S. and international law enforcement agencies to send one clear message to those hiding on the Darknet peddling illegal drugs: there is no dark internet. We can and we will shine a light,” Deputy Attorney General Lisa Monaco said in a press release.