New Task Force to Target Crypto Crimes

Federal agencies in Arizona form a task force to combat darknet and crypto crimes, aiming to disrupt criminal organizations.

On June 15, federal law enforcement agencies in Arizona officially established the Darknet Marketplace and Digital Currency Crimes Task Force. Key players including Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) Arizona, U.S. Attorney’s Office, IRS Criminal Investigation, U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration, and U.S. Postal Inspection Service finalized a memorandum of understanding to strengthen their collaborative efforts.

Strategies Against Darknet Crimes

Since 2017, the federal agencies involved have been actively concentrating on the darknet and the escalating cryptocurrency-related criminal activities. Modern technology and its constant evolution have allowed criminals to leverage the darknet, dramatically broadening the scope of their illicit operations. In response, the law enforcement tools, intelligence, and resources have adapted to effectively counter these technologically advanced criminal enterprises.

Agent Scott Brown of HSI Arizona emphasizes the agency’s active role in combating illegal activities linked to cryptocurrency use on dark web marketplaces and other anonymous platforms. The newly formed task force will significantly impact those criminals exploiting advanced technology such as crypto to expand their illegal businesses and launder proceeds.

Recent Darknet Prosecutions

The collaborative efforts of these federal partners have led to numerous successful investigations and prosecutions over recent years. These cases include significant prosecutions such as United States v. Ruelas, where four individuals conspired to traffic drugs like heroin, methamphetamine, and cocaine on the darknet. Following a thorough investigation, law enforcement seized firearms, precious metals, and jewelry, leading to varying prison sentences for the defendants involved.

Another notable case, United States v. McCoy, involved a conspiracy to distribute fentanyl via the dark web. In this instance, the offenders laundered the proceeds through a cryptocurrency exchange. The court handed down prison sentences to the three defendants involved in this case.

In the United States v. Cummings case, Michael Brian Cummings sold fentanyl-laced pills on the darknet. After pleading guilty, he agreed to forfeit all the computers and cell phones used in the offense. His sentencing is scheduled for July 31, 2023.

The Importance of Interagency Collaboration

U.S. Attorney Gary M. Restaino acknowledges the fruitful collaborations within the crypto and dark web space. The task force will further enhance the ability to interdict and prosecute digital crimes, ensuring a stronger and more cohesive response to these evolving threats.

Special Agent Al Childress from IRS-CI notes the increasing dedication to combating darknet and cryptocurrency crimes. IRS-CI agents are fully equipped to tackle sophisticated cyber-related schemes, upholding their commitment to locate and apprehend criminals exploiting the digital world.

The Role of DEA and USPIS

DEA Special Agent Cheri Oz expresses the agency’s commitment to saving lives by aggressively targeting drug traffickers hiding in the darknet. The U.S Postal Inspection Service also underlines its commitment to keeping the U.S. Mail safe. The involvement of these agencies within the task force signifies their pledge to uncover and prosecute criminals who believe they can hide behind the anonymity of the web.

Mission of the New Task Force

The Darknet Marketplace and Digital Currency Crimes Task Force aims to disrupt and dismantle criminal organizations exploiting the perceived anonymity of the darknet and digital currencies. These criminal activities include drug trafficking, money laundering, theft of personal information, and child exploitation.

The task force’s goal is to foster increased collaboration, enhance resources, and take down criminal organizations using these emerging technologies. The strategy incorporates the strengths of federal, state, and local law enforcement agencies against these criminal networks.

HSI, the principal investigative arm of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS), investigates transnational crime and threats, particularly those criminal organizations exploiting global trade, travel, and financial infrastructure. With more than 6,000 special agents assigned throughout the United States and 93 overseas locations, HSI represents DHS’s largest investigative law enforcement presence abroad and one of the largest international footprints in U.S. law enforcement.

Nonetheless, crypto enthusiasts still adhere that crypo is wrongly perceived as a means for illegal activities, and rightfully so.

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