Law enforcement Sep 05, 2020

AlphaBay Darknet Market Moderator Handed 11-Year Prison Sentence

A Colorado man who served as moderator for the now-defunct AlphaBay dark web market is set to spend 11 years of his life in prison.

Through a press statement by the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ), authorities announced that the 26-year-old Bryan Connor Herrell has been sentenced by the U.S. District Court Judge Dale Drozd to 11 years behind bars.

The convict had initially faced charges in June 2019 for the part he played in enabling the sale of illicit goods and services via the AlphaBay market. The court session took place in the Eastern District of California, with the defendant pleading guilty in January 2020.

Reportedly, the DOJ had planned to set a hearing date for the man’s sentencing in May, but took place just recently owing to the government-sanctioned restrictions related to the current global COVID-19 crisis.

A Moderator-For-Hire

According to statements from U.S. law enforcement, Herrell was a hired moderator for the AlphaBay marketplace, an illicit platform hosted on the darknet with cryptocurrency integration to enable the anonymous sale of goods and services.

AlphaBay vendors and buyers are reported to have conducted hundreds of thousands of transactions dealing in illegal products and services such as weapons, narcotics, stolen identities, and financial data to become the world’s largest darknet community.

Investigators learnt about Herrell’s participation in enabling AlphaBay operations round the clock. It turns out that the man was responsible for settling disputes arising between vendors and buyers.

In addition, it is reported that the AlphaBay moderator played the role of a “scam watcher” who dedicated his time to monitor fraud attempts targeting AlphaBay users. U.S. authorities noted that the man used the monikers “Penissmith” and “Botah” to serve the darknet role that earned him lots of money in Bitcoin.

Herrell’s arrest and eventual sentencing is considered to be the outcome of the initial crackdown against masterminds of the AlphaBay market.

Looking back, AlphaBay closed down on July 4, 2017 without notice in an alleged exit scam scenario that has become a common occurrence with darknet markets.

Shortly thereafter, wild media reports started flying around, intimating that the platform’s admins had decided to close shop after law enforcement agencies from the U.S., Canada and Thailand had conducted a joint raid that led to arrest of the website’s founder, Alexandre Cazes.

Indeed, around the same time when AlphaBay went offline, the Royal Thai Police, in collaboration with the Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI) and the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) had acted on a warrant of arrest issued against Cazes in connection to the illicit darknet marketplace.

During his arrest at a Bangkok residence, the police accessed the suspect’s laptop computer that had been left open and without encryption. An examination of the computer yielded several text files bearing the password information to the AlphaBay darknet ecommerce site, AlphaBay servers, and several other credentials associated with the website.

Later, the indictment against Cazes would be dismissed after the suspect was found dead in his Thai cell. From then, the law enforcement agencies embarked on a mission to hunt down the rest of AlphaBay’s former facilitators.

A Law Enforcement Milestone

While reflecting on the latest development in anti-darknet law enforcement, the Acting Assistant Attorney General Rabbitt said that the latest sentence against an AlphaBay employee goes to show the government’s commitment to tackle transnational crime.

The joint operation between law enforcement actors in the U.S. and Europe will continue to target all organized criminal networks that operate under the veil of darknet markets.

Further, Attorney Scott remarked that sentencing of the AlphaBay moderator goes to show that darknet criminals can no longer hide from law enforcement agencies.



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