On December 15, 2016, federal grand jury in Fresno, California, returned an indictment against an Alphabay vendor for fentanyl, heroin, and methamphetamine distribution. The vendor, Emil Vladimirov Babadjov, 32, had appeared in court the day before the indictment. The police picked him up following a criminal complaint that accused him of being the Alphabay vendor “Blime-Sub” and “BTH-Overdose.” Roughly 10 months later, on October 16, Babadjov pleaded guilty to the distribution of controlled substances.
The investigation that led to Babadjov’s arrest began in September and ended in early December, making it one of the shortest darknet investigations in 2016. DEA Special Agent John T. Rabaut, an Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Force (OCDETF) member, initiated the investigation. The Blime-Sub case was part of a much larger investigation that targeted heroin and fentanyl dealers on darknet marketplaces.
Agent Rabut found vendor feedback and forum posts that indicated the same person operated Blime-Sub and BTH-Overdose. He further deduced that the vendor sold from the West Coast, and specifically from San Francisco. This deduction, he explained, also came from an analysis of reviews and messages on websites discussing the darknet (and apparently vendor shipping details). Rabut wrote that the PGP key on BTH-Overdose’s profile belonged to “[email protected][dot]com.”
The agent then searched the Gmail address and found a Facebook account under the name “Lime Vojdabab.” Next, he added, “the reverse order of these letters spells out Emil Babajov.” Even the U.S. Attorney’s Office pointed out the somewhat humorous connection between the defendant’s first name, “Emil B” and the first half of one of the vendor usernames, “Blime.” (Emil B, reversed, is Blime.)
With assistance from the United States Postal Inspection Service, Rabut prepared a controlled purchase. He placed an order for three grams of heroin. US Postal Inspector Jessica Burger alerted the agent after the package had arrived and the taskforce began an analysis of the package and substance within. Inspector Burger examined the Postage Validation Imprinter (PVI) label and identified the time, date, and location that Babadjov had purchased the postage used on the package. She identified the location as a self-service kiosk (SSK) only 0.7 miles from Babadjov’s last known address.
When Babadjov purchased the postage, the SSK took a picture. (SSKs take pictures of every customer.) Inspector Burger pulled the picture taken by the SSK when Babadjov had bought postage and the picture matched Babadjov’s social media and drivers license pictures.
A laboratory tested the contents of the heroin package from Blime-Sub. In November, the lab reported that the substance—a powder—had tested positive for heroin. But, to Rabut’s surprise, the lab noted that “most of the powder was actually fentanyl.” A forensic examination of the package revealed that the sender had left fingerprints on the packaging that matched Babadjov’s prints. (Rabut “reviewed law enforcement records,” indicating that US authorities had already obtained Babadjov’s prints at a previous encounter.) Federal authorities had gathered enough evidence for an arrest.
Babadjov pleaded guilty to distributing more than 1,100 grams of heroin, 510 grams of meth, and 66 grams of fentanyl on Alphabay. Authorities made no mention of the Dream or Valhalla accounts under the vendor’s usernames.