This article originally appeared on VICE Canada.
A Calgary man who shipped fentanyl and other illicit drugs to the US on the dark web under the username “Canadasunshine” faces at least ten years in prison after pleading guilty in a Washington, DC, court this month for conspiring to import drugs.
Christopher Bantli is the latest in a growing number of Canadians targeted by US law enforcement—with consistent help from Canadian police—for fentanyl-related criminal charges in their ongoing crackdown on dark web drug dealers since the shuttering of some of the biggest online marketplaces in recent years.
Newly unsealed court documents filed by the US Department of Justice show Bantli, now 39, conducted his online drug business out of his Calgary apartment, using dark web sites such as AlphaBay, and a non-encrypted site Canadasunshinemart.com to advertise them. A web archive for the now defunct site shows ads for “World Famous Xanax Candies” for $1.20 per milligram and $13.00 for 100 mg of U-47700, a highly potent synthetic opioid.
Customers could pay with virtual currency including Bitcoin, and Bantli sent the packages through Canadian and US mail services.
Unbeknownst to him, Bantli sold to undercover agents with the Drug Enforcement Administration from 2015 to 2016 over dark web marketplace Alphabay. Court records describe how the agents purchased hundreds of grams of acetyl fentanyl that arrived in packages that claimed to contain kids’ toys marked as containing kids’ toys or dosed into candy that looked like Pez.
His case mirrors those of a number of other Canadians who have been caught by US authorities for allegedly dealing online.
Last August, Robert Kiessling, 40, was arrested in Kelowna, BC as part of a sweeping US online drug trafficking investigation dubbed “Operation Darkness Falls.” It came about after The Royal Canadian Mounted Police notified their American counterparts of their belief that Kiessling was the mastermind behind DougFish44, the third-largest fentanyl vendor in North America. A week after his arrest, and before he could be extradited to the US, Kiessling was found dead of an apparent suicide in Calgary, where he grew up.Another BC man, James Ellingson, was arrested in Vancouver last fall on US charges for conspiring to import meth, heroin, cocaine, and other drugs, via the dark web, and money laundering. The US believes Ellingson made millions selling drugs through the username “Marijuanaismymuse” on Silk Road and was in direct contact with the site’s founder, Ross William Ulbricht, who is currently serving life in prison for its operation. The BC Court granted Ellingson bail pending extradition to the US to face those charges, in spite of requests from American officials that he remain in custody.
And in 2017, court records revealed that two convicted felons ran an elaborate cross-border fentanyl trafficking ring from a Quebec prison and were indicted along with four other Canadians, and American and Chinese nationals. Extradition proceedings have not yet commenced.
In Bantli’s case, online evidence show a prolific sales record.
“[T]he feedback section of Canadasunshine’s vendor page on AlphaBay indicated that the Defendant completed in excess of 131 sales of controlled substances on that website,” the documents state. “The defendant also previously used the hidden marketplaces Silk Road, Agora, and Evolution to distribute controlled substances.”
Bantli also completed approximately 1,998 sales over dark web market Silk Road using a separate account called “CalgaryDealer” to buy drugs to resell, the court records state. Like Alphabay, Silk Road shut down in 2017.
“To assist with his distribution enterprise, the defendant used his apartment in Calgary, Canada, as a drug laboratory and de facto fulfillment center for the orders,” says the joint statement of facts submitted by the narcotic and dangerous drugs section of the US Department of Justice. “The Defendant’s apartment contained a pill press, packaging, cutting agents, as well as the controlled substances themselves.
One shipment of U-4770 dosed into Pez-like candy sent to a DEA agent in DC contained a warning and detailed instructions on how to consume it. “U-47700 is approximately seven times more potent than morphine. Use care and start with very small doses,” stated the warning, according to the court records.
“Beginners should start with 1 candy, wait 30 minutes and take more if desired. Experienced users can add doses every half hour from there to find your sweet spot. Heavy opiate users may need 30mg+,” it continued.
A spokesperson for the Calgary Police Service told VICE that Bantli caught the attention of their cybercrime team during an operation targeting dark web drug trafficking in 2016. They notified US authorities. Bantli was arrested by Calgary Police in August of that year and charged with two dozen drug trafficking and possession charges. Bantli was let out on bail, and those charges were stayed, but Bantli’s seven drug charges by US law enforcement stuck
He was extradited to the US in January to face those charges, and pleaded guilty to one count of conspiring to import fentanyl.
Bantli’s attorney declined to comment for this story. His sentencing hearing is scheduled for the end May.
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