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Monday, March 27, 2017

Update In German Vendor Shop Case: Three Suspects Were Sentenced To Prison

Three Germans were sentenced to prison for running a vendor shop on the dark web selling narcotics.

In November 2016, the Cybercrime Regional Center accused three persons who are believed to be connected to a dark net vendor shop selling drugs. A 54-year-old father and his 31-year-old son were charged with running the shop, while the 25-year-old defendant was accused of ordering substances from the other two suspects for resale purposes.

According to official court documents at the Mainz Regional Court, the father and son used the pseudo name “White Dragon” on the dark web to sell narcotics. The prosecution claimed that the two suspects sold drugs in 570 instances. Jörg Angerer, an attorney at the Cybercrime Regional Center, read the criminal complaint on the court trial. According to the indictment, while the father and son were active on the dark web between October 2015 and August 2016, they sold 5.3 kilograms of amphetamine, 550 grams of crystal meth, 1.8 kilograms hash, 500 grams of heroin and 1,100 ecstasy pills to customers. The vendor duo allegedly made $147,000 in bitcoins from the narcotics trade.

The 25-year-old Bavarian man allegedly ordered a package with 1.9 kilograms of amphetamine and 250 ecstasy pills from the other two defendants. According to official court documents, the 25-year-old bought the narcotics for resale purposes. It still remains unknown if the man distributed the drugs, or “just” conspired to traffic the substances.

However, in February, the Mainz Regional Court was serving as a battleground for a fight between the prosecution and the lawyers of the defendants. According to the attorneys, the investigating agencies – The Regional Center for Cybercrime (LZC) of Koblenz, the Mainz Investigative Group of the Landeskriminalamt (State Police) in Rheinland-Pfalz, and the Customs Investigation Office of Frankfurt – used “secret investigative methods” for tracking down the suspects. The lawyer’s requests to reveal the methods law enforcement authorities used in the investigation never passed the 3rd Criminal Court. The defense argued that illegal investigations were made, and the evidence gathered rendered the whole case invalid. Prosecutors made the choice to keep documents confidential which, according to the defense, interfered with the case. The “secret investigation methods” violated the scope of the warrant used by police to investigate the group. According to the defense, the judge “blindly signed the warrant”. The judge signed warrants for searches and interceptions that already took place as did the evidence gathered during the illegal searches.

However, it seems that the defense’s argument did not make a point at the judge since all suspects were sentenced to prison. Although, according to official court documents, all defendants admitted their crimes, which served as a mitigating factor during the sentencing. The confessions the men made significantly shortened their jail times.

Earlier this month, the Mainz Regional Court sentenced the three men for drug trafficking. The father and son were sentenced to six years and six months in prison, while the 25-year-old has to spend two years and three months in jail.

If, as the defense claimed, law enforcement authorities used illegal ways to arrest the suspects, the only chance they have is to present an appeal in the case. However, we do not surely know if there were any illegal methods used in the investigations.

A similar situation happened with the child porn website PlayPen. During Operation Pacifier, the Federal Bureau of Investigation arrested the website admins, although they continued running the child pornography forum between February 20 and March 4, 2015. While the FBI was controlling the dark net site, they uploaded malware to the website, which they call NITs (Network Investigative Methods), infecting the computers of the users who logged in during that time frame. The police action resulted in the arrest of numerous suspects, a part of them had been already convicted. However, several judges in the United States argued that the Bureau used illegal methods during their investigations. Senior U.S. District Judge Leon Jordan ruled in October 2016 that the Federal Bureau of Investigation violated both the US Constitution and federal rules of criminal procedure when they hacked nearly 1,300 users who accessed the PlayPen child porn site. Since then, several judges in the US followed Jordan’s example.
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