2 charged with operating $430 million dark web marketplace

Two out-of-state men have been charged in Chicago with operating a $430 million dark web marketplace to buy and sell illegal goods and services.

Thomas Pavey of Ormond Beach, Florida and Raheim Hamilton of Suffolk, Virginia, are accused of owning and operating Empire Market from 2018 to 2020, helping facilitate transactions valued at over $430 million.

Pavey, 38, and Hamilton, 28, were charged with drug trafficking, computer fraud, access device fraud, counterfeiting and money laundering, the U.S Attorney’s office announced Friday.

The indictment, filed Thursday, states that Pavey, who went by the name “Dopenugget” and Hamilton, known as both “Sydney” and “Zero Angel,” worked together to advertise and sell counterfeit U.S. currency on AlphaBay, a dark web marketplace, until it was shut down in 2017.

On Feb. 1, 2018, they launched Empire Market, where thousands of vendors sold illegal goods and services, including heroin, methamphetamine, cocaine, LSD, counterfeit currency and stolen credit card information, according to the indictment.

Vendors and buyers were able to access the marketplace through specialized software to hide their identity. All transactions were in cryptocurrency.

Buyers on the site could browse available goods and services by category, including “Fraud,” “Drugs and Chemicals” and “Counterfeit Items,” among others. Vendor pages often included advertisements with photos and description of the items available, according to the indictment.

Vendors shipped illegal items to buyers across the country, including some in the Northern District of Illinois, prosecutors said. Items were delivered digitally and in physical packages to addresses provided by the buyers.

Pavey and Hamilton took a portion of each transaction and the money was used to fund themselves and the site, according to the indictment.

During the investigation, federal law enforcement seized over $75 million in cryptocurrency, cash and precious metals.

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