One of Germany's most spectacular narcotics trials ever came to a close on Monday in Leipzig. The 20-year-old, Maximilian S., was found guilty of selling 914 kg of drugs over the darknet and clearnet. The sentence: seven years imprisonment. The sentencing marked the end of the biggest trial to date concerning darknet crime in Germany.
After Maximilian S.'s surprising confession at the end of September, the presiding judge, Norbert Göbel, found him guilty of constructing and running the Shiny Flakes online shop. From December 2013 up until his arrest on February 26th, 2015 he received 4.4 million euros (about $4.8 million) worth of Bitcoin (3.9 million euros after loss in value, or about $4.2 million) in revenue.
Judge Göbel remarked on the grounds for the sentence as well as on the digitization of the drug trade, which has become an alternative to the traditional trade by means of darknet black markets and anonymous payment methods.
"This computer stuff may make a lot of things easier, but it [online sale] is just as bad as dealing on the street," Göbel explained.
Maximilian S. may have been financially independent and have a high IQ, but there is still evidence of a poor "life plan" and emotional immaturity
Maximilian S. appeared unmoved during his sentencing. Even during his mother's testimony today, in which she described his attitude towards her as increasingly "undiscerning, grumpy, stubborn and lazy," he barely showed any emotion. He would like to do an apprenticeship in jail. He has yet to make plans, but he "definitely doesn't want to be an artist or caregiver," as he stated to his juvenile court representative. Nevertheless, imprisonment seems to have already had an effect: The defendant has shown signs of remorse, according to experts.
Unlike many of those watching the trial had expected, the court decided to judge Maximilian as a minor. The sentencing was preceded by an evaluation from the juvenile court representative stating that Maximilian S. may have been financially independent and have a high IQ, but there is still evidence of a poor "life plan" and emotional immaturity.
Forensic expert Christof Hieronymus basically seconded the juvenile court representative's evaluation, which was also made public on Monday: Maximilian S. stood out as a child and was unpopular in school. He's also been medicated for ten years and underwent therapy. Accordingly he "has not understood" the "emotional impact of his actions" even today and he's lacking "an emotional compass" as well as the ability to interact socially in groups. Both experts attested to "delayed emotional development."
After dropping out of a culinary apprenticeship, the then 19-year-old began to fully devote his time to running Shiny Flakes and ultimately built up one of the most lucrative online drug shops in Germany. Aside from some help in the beginning from his mentor, RedBull (who has by now been arrested) and support from someone with the username DummesSchwein (who disappeared early on), Maximilian S. basically handled all the tasks of an online dealer himself, from dealing with the technical side of Bitcoin wallets and the server, to delivery pickups, to sending his product to customers.
The police are still unable to access two of his Bitcoin wallets and are therefore unable to see the balances
In an interview with Motherboard Germany in 2014, the operator of Shiny Flakes outlined his business and ascribed his success to his "exclusive selection of pills," but also to optimizing his shop using statistical analysis of "customers and buying habits."
But most of all, Shiny Flakes made it incredibly easy for customers with no dark web experience to order drugs over the internet and was able to draw in countless consumers with his image-heavy web shop. Shiny Flakes offered basically everything, from MDMA and ecstasy to speed and crystal meth to LSD and marijuana, which he stopped selling occasionally because of high demand. With a Bitcoin payment, you could order whatever you liked, and Shiny Flakes always tried to be service oriented.
"If it weren't illegal," the prosecutor argued in his closing statement, "you'd have to take your hat off to the defendant." He called for a sentence of eight years and eight months given the magnitude of the business, because calling it a "crackpot idea would be downplaying it."
Maximilian S.'s lawyer, Stefan Constable, said that his client found himself in a hamster wheel and was "looking for a kick" in creating Shiny Flakes—adding that his client had confessed completely. He called for six years and six months.
However after the sentence was given, the defense attorney was visibly relieved. "I'm very satisfied today," he told press. "We reached all our goals today."
Maximilian made two mistakes that ultimately sealed his fate and drew the attention of the Leipzig Police. One was not putting the correct postage on some of his packages; one of them ended up being detained for having suspicious contents at a mail center in Leipzig after being returned to sender. Maximilian's other mistake was always using the same package station located not far from his house.
He would take taxis to package station 145, which was under video surveillance. He always ordered these taxis using a cell phone he used exclusively for this purpose. More than a dozen cell phones and more than two dozen SIM cards were discovered in his room, demonstrating a high amount of effort put into logistics and organization, which continuously grew with the volume of his business. It's hard to imagine the amount of pressure the dealer must have been under in the weeks leading up to his arrest.
Investigators only realized the scope of the case when they arrested Maximilian S. in his childhood bedroom, with neatly stacked drugs organized on shelves around the room. The arrest followed a pickup from a 51-year-old courier that Maximilian met in a parking lot near his apartment in Leipzig. The courier was already sentenced to five years and ten months in prison.
In spite of the police seizures, it's not clear whether Maximilian will actually be completely penniless after his release. The police are still unable to access two of his Bitcoin wallets and are therefore unable to see the balances. However his lawyer, Stefan Constabel, claims that both of the wallets are empty. Judge Göbel doesn't seem completely convinced, however. "There must be something inside those uncrackable wallets," the judge said.
Meanwhile the police are still trying to auction off the sum of Bitcoin that they were able to seize.
This article originally appeared on Motherboard Germany.