Thursday, September 09, 2021

Dark Web Narcotics Traffickers Plead Guilty to Conspiracy to Distribute Illegal Drugs in Exchange for Cryptocurrency

 Defendants Offered Covert Shipment of Methamphetamines, Fentanyl, Heroin, LSD and MDMA to Evade Detection by Law Enforcement

Earlier today, in federal court in Brooklyn, Gilberto Melgarejo pleaded guilty to conspiracy to distribute and possess with intent to distribute illegal drugs over the “dark web.”  Co-defendant Brooke Gray pleaded guilty to the same charge on August 10, 2021.  Melgarejo and Gray participated in dozens of transactions on the dark web in which they sold an array of illegal drugs including methamphetamines, fentanyl, heroin, LSD and MDMA, and took payment in the form of cryptocurrency.  Both defendants pleaded guilty before United States Chief District Judge Margo K. Brodie.  They were arrested on November 14, 2019 in Albuquerque, New Mexico.

Jacquelyn M. Kasulis, Acting United States Attorney for the Eastern District of New York, and Ray Donovan, Special Agent-in-Charge, Drug Enforcement Administration, New York Division (DEA), announced the guilty pleas.

“With today’s guilty plea, the defendants have admitted to peddling potentially lethal narcotics on the dark web in a failed effort to hide their illegal and dangerous activity from law enforcement,” stated Acting United States Attorney Kasulis.  “As these defendants have learned, drug dealers who push their poison online cannot evade prosecution by hiding in the dark corners of the internet.  This Office, together with its law enforcement partners, will continue to aggressively prosecute narcotics traffickers who contribute to the opioid epidemic and harm our communities.”

“This investigation proves that there is no place to hide in the dark web when it comes to law enforcement’s efforts to save lives.  Their selling point was anonymity, but law enforcement followed ‘THEQUEENSHIVE’ trail to the defendants’ base of operations in Albuquerque, New Mexico.  With overdoses on the rise, it is our goal to shut down as many drug trafficking organizations online and on the streets,” stated DEA Special Agent-in-Charge Donovan.

The internet contains online marketplaces for narcotics and other contraband on the “dark web,” a part of the internet located beyond the reach of traditional internet browsers and accessible only through networks designed to conceal user identities.  The “Wall Street Market” and “Empire Market” were global dark web marketplaces that required their users to trade in digital currencies, primarily Bitcoin. 

Between March 2019 and September 2019, Melgarejo and Gray advertised and sold illegal narcotics on Wall Street Market and Empire Market, using the moniker “THEQUEENSHIVE.”  Customers were directed to pay for illegal narcotics with cryptocurrency and contact Melgarejo and Gray through encrypted email and messaging services.  Melgarejo and Gray claimed to sell “the highest quality product at the best price on the market…our packaging is covert as seal team six to ensure we avoid interception.”  Beginning in March 2019, Melgarejo and Gray unknowingly made multiple sales of narcotics, including methamphetamine, heroin, fentanyl, LSD and MDMA to undercover DEA agents.  Melgarejo and Gray used fake address labels and shipping materials designed to disguise the narcotics, then mailed the narcotics using United States Postal Service mailboxes located in multiple gas stations in the Albuquerque area in a futile effort to evade detection.  The investigation further revealed that after receiving Bitcoin in exchange for the narcotics, Melgarejo and Gray converted the Bitcoin to cash and shared the proceeds.  Melgarejo and Gray participated in over 90 transactions on Wall Street Market and Empire Market.

When they are sentenced, Melgarejo and Gray each face up to life in prison.

The government’s case is being handled by the Office’s International Narcotics and Money Laundering Section.  Assistant United States Attorney Francisco J. Navarro is in charge of the prosecution.

The Defendants:

Age:  27
Albuquerque, New Mexico

Age:  23
Albuquerque, New Mexico

E.D.N.Y. Docket No. 19-CR-586 (MKB)

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