Law enforcement officials announced a far-reaching drug enforcement operation Tuesday involving the online peddling of fake pills often laced with lethal drugs that resulted in the arrests of at least 150 suspects worldwide, including 65 in the U.S.
The 10-month investigation also netted nearly $32 million in cash, 45 firearms and an estimated 4 million deadly doses of fentanyl among the 500 pounds of illicit drugs seized.
Focusing on the widening illicit drug market on the dark web, the operation known as “Dark HunTor” involved coordinated enforcement actions in Australia, Bulgaria, France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Switzerland, the United Kingdom and the United States.
‘There is no dark internet’
The “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,” Deputy Attorney General Lisa Monaco said at a Justice Department briefing. “Operation Dark HunTor prevented countless lives from being lost to this dangerous trade in illicit and counterfeit drugs, because one pill can kill.”
Monaco said some searches turned up home-bound drug making businesses where suspects used special presses to produce pills styled to resemble actual medication.
One arm of the investigation involved online vendors based in Miami and Providence, Rhode Island, where three suspects allegedly “advertised and sold pressed fentanyl pills throughout the United States.”
“The point of operations such as the one today is to put criminals operating on the dark web on notice: the law enforcement community has the means and global partnerships to unmask them and hold them accountable for their illegal activities, even in areas of the dark web,” said Jean-Philippe Lecouffe, deputy executive director of operations for Europol.
Lecouffe joined Monaco and other U.S. law enforcement officials at the Justice briefing where he said some of the suspects included long sought “high-value targets.”
“No one is beyond the reach of the law,” Lecouffe said.
In addition to the 65 arrests in the United States, there were 47 in Germany, 24 in the United Kingdom, four each in Italy and the Netherlands, three in France, two in Switzerland and one in Bulgaria.
Lecouffe said the international investigation was ongoing and could likely result in additional arrests.
“Each time we arrest people, each time we search a house we find new leads,” he said.