United States forfeits millions in cryptocurrency used to launder illicit dark web proceeds

 

Date: April 4, 2022

Contact: newsroom@ci.irs.gov

Miami, FL — In one of the largest cryptocurrency forfeiture actions ever filed by the United States, federal prosecutors in the Southern District of Florida successfully forfeited approximately $34 million worth of cryptocurrency tied to illegal Dark Web activity.

According to the U.S. Government's civil forfeiture complaint, law enforcement agents identified a South Florida resident raking in millions by using an on-line alias to make over 100,000 sales of illicit items and hacked online account information on several of the world's largest Dark Web marketplaces. For example, the South Florida resident sold hacked online account information for popular services such as HBO, Netflix, and Uber, among others, and accessed the Dark Web by utilizing the TOR (The Onion Router) Network. The Onion Router Network is a special network of computers distributed around the world designed to anonymize a user's internet traffic by concealing computers' IP (Internet Protocol) addresses.

As detailed in the complaint, records analyses revealed that the South Florida resident utilized so-called "tumblers" and illegal Dark Web money transmitter services to launder one cryptocurrency for another—a technique called "chain hopping"—in violation of federal money laundering statutes. A tumbler is a Dark Web mixing service that pools together multiple cryptocurrency transactions. Then, the tumbler distributes the cryptocurrency to a designated cryptocurrency wallet at random times, and in random increments. The goal is to obscure the original source of funds. Law enforcement agents seized various cryptocurrency wallets associated with the illegal Dark Web conduct.

This forfeiture action is the result of Operation TORnado, a joint investigation that stems from the ongoing efforts by OCDETF, a partnership between federal, state and local law enforcement agencies. The principal mission of the OCDETF program is to identify, disrupt, and dismantle the highest-level drug traffickers, money launderers, and other priority transnational criminal organizations that threaten the citizens of the United States using a prosecutor-led, intelligence driven, multi-agency approach to combat transnational organized crime. The OCDETF program facilitates complex, joint operations by focusing its partner agencies on priority targets, by managing and coordinating multi-agency efforts, and by leveraging intelligence across multiple investigative platforms.

Juan Antonio Gonzalez, U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Florida; Matthew D. Line, Special Agent in Charge, Internal Revenue Service, Criminal Investigation (IRS-CI), Miami Field Office; George L. Piro, Special Agent in Charge, FBI Miami; Deanne L. Reuter, Special Agent in Charge, DEA Miami; Anthony Salisbury, Special Agent in Charge, Homeland Security Investigations (HSI), Miami Field Office, and Joseph W. Cronin, Inspector in Charge, Miami Division, U.S. Postal Inspection Service (USPIS), made the announcement.

IRS-CI, FBI, DEA, Homeland Security Investigations (HSI), and U.S. Postal Inspection Service (USPIS) investigated the case.

Asset Forfeiture Division Assistant U.S. Attorney Mitch Hyman and Deputy Chiefs Nicole Grosnoff and Nalina Sombuntham prosecuted this asset forfeiture action. Monique Botero, Chief of the Southern District of Florida's International Money Laundering and Narcotics Section, is the lead prosecutor on Operation TORnado.