On July 24, U.S. Attorney Phillip A. Talbert announced the sentencing of Abudullah Almashwali aka one half of “DarkApollo” and “Area51.” Almashwali, along with Chaudhry Ahmad Farooq, his co-defendant, sold heroin and cocaine on the former darknet marketplace known as Alphabay. Although the duo were taken down by law enforcement at the same time, only Almashwali received his prison sentence; Farooq’s sentencing date is in January 2018.
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Almashwali received a 78 month prison sentence for conspiracy to distribute heroin and cocaine and for the distribution of heroin and cocaine. Law enforcement agents were able to determine which one of the two men carried the bulk of the operation. And it was not 31-year-old Almashwali; his co-defendant, 24-year-old Farooq, managed the operation. Almashwali simply purchased stamps and shipped Farooq’s orders, the court documents explained.
The Area51 and DarkApollo case picked up mainstream attention at the case’s inception for a mistake that resembled the very mistake made by the owner of Alphabay. The U.S. law enforcement agencies that contributed to the Alphabay takedown claimed that the owner, alpha02, had made the mistake of completely failing to compartmentalize and separate his darknet vendor identity and (any other) real life identities. A fact that is verifiable with the most cursory of Google searches. There is some ongoing dispute as to the legitimacy of the FBI’s claim that the Alphabay owner left his email in what amounted to a forum welcome email, but the point stands. Alexandre Cazes was connected to alpha02 through his own personal information, things he said on the internet, and similar slip-ups along the way.
Almashwali and Farooq made the same mistake the feds claimed Cazes made: they let an email break any compartmentalization that existed in the first place. In a heavily redacted court document, an investigator explained that one of the PGP keys used by Area51 had a Gmail email address associated with it. Law enforcement searched the internet for social media accounts using variations of the email address “[email protected].” The username matched up with Twitter and Instagram accounts—both owned by Farooq in Brooklyn, New York.
The feds began the next stage of the operation after discovering the account owner’s identity. It was in this stage of the investigation when officers made a case against Almashwali—he wants seen dropping off packages that later ended up matching undercover orders. Law enforcement closed the case as ready as they had opened it. Farooq pleaded guilty to selling 636.5 grams of heroin on Alphabay. Documents received that he had made $145,807 in Bitcoin. Almashwali pleaded guilty in April 2017.
In a closing only fit for law enforcement, U.S. Attorney Talbert said:
“The sentencing in this case is timely, as it closely follows our seizure and shut down of the AlphaBay criminal marketplace. That case resulted in an indictment filed in our district, but involved significant coordination and assistance from our partners in the Criminal Division’s Computer Crime and Intellectual Property Section, as well as the FBI and DEA. Although other markets are likely to open or continue to operate after AlphaBay’s demise, we have shown our ability to prosecute those who commit crimes using the dark web and to shut down the criminal enterprises that attempt to hide there. Today’s sentence highlights that people committing crimes on the dark web will be brought to justice.”