U.S. District Judge Denise L. Cote sentenced a Florida man to 210 months in prison for distributing an assortment of illegal substances on Alphabay and Dream Market.
Richard Castro, 37, of Windermere, Florida, conspired to distribute carfentanil, fentanyl, and phenyl fentanyl over the darkweb from November 2015 through March 2019. Castro and a co-conspirator sold drugs over the darkweb under the pseudonyms “Chemsusa,” “Chems_usa,” and “Chemical_usa.”
The investigation that led to Castro’s arrest began on December 20, 2016, when an undercover officer purchased 50 milligrams of carfentanil from “Chemical_usa” on AlphaBay. On January 12, 2017, the undercover officer received a package that contained 0.53 milligrams of a substance that tested positive for carfentanil.
The undercover officer made four more purchases from “Chemical_usa” between January and June 2017. While analyzing the bitcoin transactions associated with the undercover purchases, law enforcement (LE) tracked the bitcoins to a bitcoin wallet associated with an undisclosed bitcoin exchange. LE reportedly established that between 2015 and 2017, “Chemical_usa” had deposited more than approximately $1.8 million into the bitcoin wallet. He had also withdrawn more than approximately $1.77 million from the wallet in the same period.
Law enforcement also focused on the vendor profile of “Chemsusa” on Dream Market. From information on the profile, LE established that “Chemsusa” had completed more than 3,200 transactions on other darkweb markets, including more than 1,800 on AlphaBay. Customer feedback on “Chemsusa’s” profile included, among others:
In June 2018, “Chemsusa” informed his customers on Dream that he was moving his business off darkweb marketplaces and would accept purchases over encrypted email instead. He then asked willing customers to pay a $104 fee to gain access to the email address. The undercover officer sent bitcoins worth $104 to “Chems_usa” on August 14, 2018 and received the email address on September 11, 2018.
The undercover officer purchased 100 milligrams from “Chemsusa” through the email address. He sent $250 in bitcoins to an address emailed to him by “Chemsusa”.
On January 7, 2019, the Investigating officers recovered a priority mail addressed to the undercover agent that the United States Postal Inspection Service (USPIS) had intercepted.
The package had an ink postmark that disclosed that it had been sent from a post office in New York on December 30, 2018. LE officers reviewed the surveillance video obtained from the post office and established that Castro’s co-conspirator, Luis Fernandez, had dropped off the package and five other priority mail packages on December, 30. 2018.
The investigating officers reportedly identified 94 packages tied to “Chemsusa”. LE allegedly directly tied 11 of the sender addresses to Castro. The return address on one of the drug packages sent on March 1, 2019, was associated with a business operated by one of Castro’s family members.
Castro was linked to the “Chemsusa” profiles by several attributes including:
The investigators acquired information from a gold broker that disclosed that on April 7, 2017, and April 25, 2017, an individual named Richard Castro had used bitcoin to purchase gold from the broker. The bitcoins used to purchase the gold on both occasions were traced back to the bitcoin wallet owned by “Chems_usa.”
On November 7, 2018, the investigators acquired a search warrant that allowed them to acquire the IP address associated with Castro’s home. The investigators established that between August 2016 and November 2017 the IP address was used to access the bitcoin wallet associated with “Chems_usa” on more than 502 occasions.
The investigators also established that Castro’s IP address was used to access IP addresses associated with the email address used by “Chemsusa” to sell drugs.
Castro and his co-conspirator were arrested on March 12, 2019. A search at Castro’s residence resulted in the seizure of nine firearms and two safes used to secure private keys to multiple bitcoin wallets.
On July 25, 2019, Castro pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to distribute and possess with the intent to distribute carfentanil, phenyl fentanyl, and fentanyl and one count of money laundering.
Castro was sentenced to 17 years and 6 months in prison on October 8, 2020. Castro was also sentenced to five years of supervised release and ordered to forfeit $4,156,198.18.
Castro’s accomplice Luis Fernandez was sentenced to 151 months in prison, four years of supervised release, and ordered to forfeit $269,623.