For a long time, dark web drug crimes have been associated with underground criminals with no other means to make ends meet, or unscrupulous individuals looking to make money without the need to break much sweat.
Recent reports of a U.S. army vet that was involved in dark web drug crime may demystify the longstanding notion that illicit underground commerce is the reserve of seasoned criminals – it turns out that the bug to live lavish by selling drugs on the dark web can catch anyone after all.
The U.S. government has revealed that a 25-year-old military veteran identified as James Verl Barlow struck it rich over a period of eight years after selling psychedelic narcotics across a number of dark web marketplaces using the alias Tripwithscience.
The U.S. government is still hard at work collating evidence to criminalize the suspect that is said to have managed to become one of the dark web’s most successful drug sellers. The 25-year-old may be linked to another suspect believed to by the army vet’s coordinator under the Tripwithscience criminal organization banner.
The authorities have also identified another co-conspirator who happens to be the suspect’s brother known as Matthew Barlow who, together with his colleagues, operated a highly sophisticated dark web drug operation spanning across the world.
It turns out that the criminal organization specialized in psychedelic drugs, mushrooms, which were cultivated by a criminal partner identified as Ronald Brust. A press release by the U.S. Department of Justice intimated that liquefied fungi would be mixed on U.S. soil before being sent to the UK for further packaging and delivery across the globe.
Additional reports showed that the dark web criminals focused on selling liquid psychedelic mushrooms stored in 9mg vials that would be sold for $20 each across a long list of dark web marketplaces, including the now-defunct Silk Road 2.0 and Empire Market.
The dark web criminal group also went on to utilize modern darknet markets such as Monopoly and Televend. As a side note, Televend Market was recently compromised under unclear circumstances. Users belonging to the Telegram-based dark web drug market reported being locked out of their vendor panels on the platform (See screenshot).
Figure 1: An announcement on Dread about Televend Market being compromised
The Law Enforcement Operation
In January, law enforcement agents recovered data that was reportedly traced to the army vet’s Google account. The authorities came across spreadsheets with info concerning sales that had been conducted for Tripwithscience and another vendor that he reportedly helped run called Perfectshrooms.
According to investigators, one tab titled “2015 Received” showed that the accounts raked in 704 dark web transactions amounting to 1,544 Bitcoin valued at about $90 million according to current exchange rates.
Another spreadsheet showed that the dark web drug dealer made about 2,300 Bitcoin in transactions that occurred between the year 2014 and 2020 – the figures translated to about $140 million including the $4,000 a month that he was being paid to serve in the U.S. army as a sergeant first class.
James Barlow and his brother were apprehended in April, but have not filed pleas to their court charges. Brust and the other partners have so far pleaded not guilty pending their trial date.