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4 Las Vegas men snared in global investigation of ‘dark web’ drug sales

Updated October 26, 2021 - 4:17 pm

An international law enforcement operation targeting illegal drugs sold via the “dark web” led to the arrest of four Las Vegas men accused of packaging, shipping and distributing cocaine across the U.S. , federal officials said Tuesday.

The Las Vegas arrests this summer were part of “Operation Dark HunTor,” which was announced Tuesday by the U.S. Department of Justice. The investigation led to 65 apprehensions in the U.S. and approximately 85 in Bulgaria, France, Germany, Netherlands, the United Kingdom, Italy and Switzerland, the department said in a news release, adding that “a number of investigations are still ongoing.”

Authorities confiscated drugs, weapons and more than $30 million in currency, officials said.

The dark web, also known as the darknet, is a portion of the internet where users can shield their identities to create marketplaces that sell illicit items.

A Las Vegas federal grand jury in July indicted Paul Engstrom, Vincent Cuomo, Abraham Elliott and Joseph Krieger on six counts each of conspiracy to distribute drugs, according to court documents.

Engstrom, Cuomo, and Elliott face an additional count of possession of drugs with intent to distribute.

And Engstrom, described in the complaint as the leader of the operation, was charged with money laundering conspiracy.

The group came to the Drug Enforcement Administration’s attention in October 2020, the complaint said.

By surveilling a townhouse on the 300 block of East Silverado Ranch Boulevard, near Bermuda Road, agents discovered that members of the group would deliver drugs to Krieger, who would then ship envelopes containing the cocaine from post offices across the city, the complaint alleges.

In late December, agents with the U.S. Postal Service Office of Investigations, aided by North Las Vegas police, opened four of 15 envelopes Krieger had dropped off at a post office on Martin Luther King Boulevard, the complaint said. Inside they found a “white powdery substance” that tested positive for cocaine.

The Postal Service investigators linked the envelopes to a “dark web” entity only known to authorities as “Insta.”

The criminal operation continued until DEA agents raided a second “stash house” located near Interstate 15 and H Street on June 21, the complaint said.

Engstrom, Cuomo, and Elliott tried to run from agents, but didn’t get far, according to the complaint. Agents found about 15 pounds of cocaine, zipper bags and scales in the home. It wasn’t clear where or when Krieger was taken into custody.

Investigators believe the group trafficked at least 20 kilograms (more than 40 pounds) of cocaine from February 2020 to June 2021, collecting nearly $2 million, the complaint said.

Buyers would pay three times the street value of the drug and had to buy at least 3.5 grams of the drug at a time, the complaint said. The buyers would pay with cryptocurrency, a decentralized and untraceable digital currency, which Engstrom would covert into cash.

Krieger and Elliott have since been released on bond, while prosecutors recently argued against releasing Engstrom, calling him a flight risk, according to court documents.

Federal prosecutors in 15 states, including Nevada, are handling the U.S. cases, officials said.

“Today, we face new and increasingly dangerous threats as drug traffickers expand into the digital world and use the darknet to sell dangerous drugs like fentanyl and methamphetamine,” said DEA Administrator Anne Milgram in a news release. “These drug traffickers are flooding the United States with deadly, fake pills, driving the U.S. overdose crisis, spurring violence, and threatening the safety and health of American communities.”

Contact Ricardo Torres-Cortez at rtorres@reviewjournal.com. Follow @rickytwrites on Twitter.

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