WASHINGTON (WPIX) — U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland announced Tuesday that nearly 300 people selling fake pills and other fentanyl products on the dark net have been busted.
“The drug traffickers are confident that operating anonymously on the dark web, they can operate outside the bounds of law,” Garland said. “They are wrong.”
Garland said the Joint Criminal Opioid and Darknet Enforcement (JCODE) team had been working on various cases since the fall of 2021, ultimately arresting 288 people from Boca Raton, Florida, to Cerritos, California, in a federal operation called Operation SpecTor.
In addition, eight foreign nations cooperated with the U.S. government to break up internet deals for drugs, some of the narcotics bought with cryptocurrency.
“The clear and direct message is that the FBI will never rest until we shine a light on the digital drug lords,” Deputy FBI Director Paul Abbate said at the press conference.
Abbate noted his agency used undercover agents and acted on information from international partners.
Austria, Brazil, France, Germany, the Netherlands, Poland, Switzerland and the United Kingdom assisted in the investigation. One reporter noted that Mexico was glaringly absent from the list of nations who helped. Most of the fentanyl getting into the United States is produced in clandestine labs all over Mexico, with the precursor chemicals coming from China.
“I’ve been to Mexico myself twice,” Garland said, “meeting with the Secretary of Defense and head of the Navy and security ministers.”
Garland said the U.S. needs “the cooperation of Mexico in all kinds of matters, and we will continue to work on that.”
The Internal Revenue Service, Drug Enforcement Administration and Department of Homeland Security were among the federal agencies that worked on the long-term investigation.
Fentanyl is a scourge that has killed thousands of Americans. It was blamed for the bulk of the fatal overdoses between August 2021 and August 2022, when 107,735 people died from drug ODs in a single year—a record.
The federal investigators seized 117 firearms during the course of their investigation, along with 850 kilos of fentanyl and methamphetamine. Additionally, $53 million in cash and virtual currencies was recovered.
The Department of Justice issued a press release detailing the case of Anton Peck, 29, of Boca Raton, Florida. He’s accused with co-conspirators of mailing parcels of fentanyl, heroin and methamphetamine to cities nationwide using the U.S. postal service. The DOJ said Peck had more than 6,000 clients across the nation.
The DOJ also highlighted the case of Christopher Hampton of Cerritos, California, who was arrested last November. Federal agents said Hampton was using high-speed pill presses to create fake pills containing fentanyl and methamphetamine, selling millions of these pills to customers on the darknet.