Even though many now closed dark web markets fade into memory, law enforcement are still trying to catch dealers who sold illegal goods on digital shelves years ago.
On Wednesday, the United States Attorney's Office for the Northern District of Georgia announced that the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) had arrested two men from Atlanta for allegedly selling weapons on the dark web to customers in dozens of different countries.
"Organized criminal groups often rely on the availability of weapons to carry out their activities; thus, the market for illegal firearms around the world. ATF will aggressively and acutely target any individuals who seek to diminish the general welfare of our communities with illegal firearms trafficking," ATF Special Agent in Charge Wayne Dixie said in a statement.
The men, Gerren Johnson and William Jackson, allegedly sold firearms from February 2013 on Black Market Reloaded (BMR) and Agora, both of which date way back to the fairly early days on the dark web. BMR was the second main marketplace after the original Silk Road, and Agora was its brief successor when Silk Road closed.
According to the indictment filed in early May, Jackson and Johnson operated under the handle CherryFlavor. They allegedly bought several different models of 9mm pistols from legitimate gun vendors in the US, and shipped the weapons to customers in France, the Netherlands, and elsewhere. In one instance, Australian law enforcement found a pistol hidden in a karaoke machine while it was in transit, the indictment reads. In another, they found a gun inside a DVD player, according to another related court document.
The pair aren't the first to be arrested with alleged links to these gun sales, however. Back in 2014, the ATF filed a complaint against Brendan Person and Sherman Jackson, who also supposedly worked as part of the gun smuggling ring (both have pleaded guilty, according to the United States Attorney's Office press release).
According to court filings, investigators essentially worked backwards; first intercepting suspicious packages, finding weapons, interviewing the suspected customers, and finding out the guns were sold via the dark web. From here, they tracked where the weapons had left the legal market, sometimes in face-to-face sales, and obtained phone and other records that led to the suspects.
In part, these alleged gun-runners were arrested because of the weakest part in the dark web weapon and drug trade: the mail system. Indeed, in 2015 Agora market announced it would no longer facilitate the sale of weapons.
"Shipping weapons is hard," an administrator said at the time.
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