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Via America’s Lawyer: Mike Papantonio and Brigida Santos discuss the Dark Web and the criminal underworld of the cyber black market.


Mike Papantonio: OxyMonster, the notorious dark web drug trafficker was just arrested and brought before a judge to face charges. His underground website flooded Europe and the U.S. with various types of hard narcotics but, while he’ll be going to prison soon, the same can’t be said of the other dark web vendors who are still making a killing, selling drugs, kidnapped women, and even selling assassinations, if you can imagine that, on the dark web. Joining me to talk about this is RT correspondent, Brigida Santos.

Brigida, let’s start with the OxyMonster case. Who is he and what was he arrested for? What were the details of what they actually pulled him in for?

Brigida Santos: Gal Vallerius was arrested and he pleaded guilty to money laundering and also possession with the intent to sell narcotics and also to sell controlled substances including oxycodone and Ritalin. He was doing this on a dark web site, a market called Dream Market, where people can buy and sell illegal items in exchange for cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin. Now he also admitted to working as an administrator and as a senior moderator for this website as well, and he was caught after the authorities linked his digital cryptocurrency wallet to a tip jar that he had left on his Dream Market vendor’s site, so that’s how he got caught.

Mike Papantonio: Brigida, you mentioned the crypto currencies. Does the cyber black market depend on these cryptocurrencies in order to exist and, first of all, you know, if you’ve mentioned the dark web, people think it’s some kind of imagination. It’s a figment of our imagination, it’s not really there, but doesn’t the dark web kind of rely on the cryptocurrency?

Brigida Santos: Sure, in cases it does. If you’re going to be buying and selling things, in order to maintain some sort of anonymity between vendors and also those buyers, but also you can do legal activities on the dark web as well, join social networks, other things like that but, yes, these cryptocurrencies are necessary for this type of commerce and current studies show that about 25% of Bitcoin users and half of Bitcoin transactions are tied to illegal activity. However, I believe those numbers are a little bit inflated because they’re counting the number of users as if they were wallets, but many users own more than one wallet, and since 2015 more and more people have adopted the use of Bitcoin and the infrastructure around Bitcoin has built up, so the number of illegal transactions have actually gone down in that case.

Mike Papantonio: Well, one thing for sure, the dark web is not a figment of our imagination. It’s out there. It’s great for a thriller book. I write thrillers and I use it in there from time to time. Give us some examples, would you, of what’s out there in the dark web? What are some examples of some of these websites that would be found on the dark web?

Brigida Santos: Sure. People can buy anything from organs to hit men, hackers, you name it. If you can think of it, it probably exists on the dark web. One recently came to light called the Black Death Group, which was selling women as sex slaves, and that came to light when one woman was kidnapped. The person was caught and they said that they had intended to sell her on the Black Death Group, a dark website where people can auction off buying these slaves.

Mike Papantonio: Well, how’s the U.S. going to deal with this problem? How is the U.S. talking about taking on the dark web? What’s their next step? Surely there’s something in place to basically shut it down, and what I wonder is why haven’t they been able to do that?

Brigida Santos: Well, they have been able to shut down some online dark web bazaars, things like AlphaBay and Silk Road, but it is incredibly difficult because of the anonymous nature and the way that the onion routers work to hide people’s IP addresses. So it is something that they slowly try to take down but as soon as they take down one, 10 more pop up in its place. I believe right now, according to research, there are about 32 dark web markets in place and they have to do this internationally with people and they just go one by one catching people from the back end by looking at the blockchain and sort of working backwards and trying to find mistakes that people have made, users like this Gal Vallerius who was caught, but they are trying to take it down. It is incredibly difficult. Really, what they should be doing is trying to end the war on drugs, which has really sent more people to the dark web to buy drugs.

Mike Papantonio: Well, you know the opioid case, which I’m involved with up in Cleveland, we’re seeing more and more about how the opioid case spread and became really a national catastrophe and the dark web was very much a part of that. What we’re really trying to figure out at this point is what did the distributors or distributors know? Of say, Oxycontin, the people that were out distributing those types of drugs. What did the manufacturers know? Did they actually use the dark web as a way to divert the drug to be used for all different purposes? You know, I’m interested to know, you mentioned several different things. You’ve mentioned that human trafficking occurs there on the dark web and you mentioned that actually people can actually find a hitmen that are putting their services out on the dark web. Those types of things make me wonder, does everybody have access to this or is there some special clearing house before you can even get on the dark web that people use to access it?

Brigida Santos: No, anybody can get on it as long as they’re using an onion router. For those drug dealers, there are special software that they can use, but they also get caught if they’re not careful, which is, again, this is good for the FBI and the authorities who are looking at those types of people. In the case of Gal Vallerius, it’s very likely that he will now be an informant and try to help the authorities learn how these systems work in order to try and shut them down.

Mike Papantonio: Well, it would seem to me that it would be a perfect net for law enforcement. I mean, just sit by it and see who shows up, follow the IP someway and, you know, you’re going to get the people that you want to go after. I can’t imagine, you know, in the back of my mind, I’m wondering whether they want the dark web to stay out there because it really is kind of a net to catch all the fish there. Brigida, thanks for joining me, okay?

Brigida Santos: Thanks.

Mike Papantonio is an American attorney and television and radio talk show host. He is past president of The National Trial Lawyers, the most prestigious trial lawyer association in America; and is one of the few living attorneys inducted into the Trial Lawyer Hall of Fame. He hosts the international television show "America's Lawyer"; and co-hosts Ring of Fire Radio, a nationally syndicated weekly radio program, with Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. and Sam Seder.