61 arrested in operation targeting opioid trafficking on darknet

Operation SaboTor also seizes 660 pounds of drugs, 51 firearms, more than $7M

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – A coordinated law enforcement operation targeting opioid trafficking on the darknet netted 61 arrests, members of the Joint Criminal Opioid and Darknet Enforcement team announced Tuesday. 

Operation SaboTor, which was conducted from Jan. 11 to March 12, was the second-largest investigation into online opioid trafficking in the U.S. since Operation Disarray last year.

Although none of the people who were arrested were from the Jacksonville area, the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration's Jacksonville District Office says the arrests are just a microcosm of a larger problem that is dramatically growing. 

Despite their efforts, federal agents say it is becoming increasingly hard to infiltrate the flow of online drug trafficking. Federal agents who go after organized drug traffickers say the darknet has become the Amazon for illegal activity.

"You can pretty much buy anything you want on the dark web," said DEA Assistant Special Agent in Charge Mike Dubet, of the Jacksonville office.

Purchases have included heavy amounts of illegal opioids that are disguised as legitimate prescription medicine. Agents say buyers are using virtual currency to pay for the drugs, which are then shipped to addresses like normal mail. 

"This problem is so big the DEA has created a cyber-support section at our headquarters with all our federal partners to include the FBI, U.S. Postal Service, IRS, HSI (Homeland Security Investigations) and international partners, as well, to combat this issue," Dubet said.

Those partners recently took part in Operation SaboTor, which led to the shutdown of 50 darknet accounts in addition to the arrests of 61 people. The operation also seized 660 pounds of drugs, 51 firearms and more than $7 million. But authorities say there is so much more being offered and sold on the darknet -- an area of the internet that’s often difficult for law enforcement to fully infiltrate. 

“The whole purpose is to remain anonymous," Dubet said. "The vendor remains anonymous as well as the customer."

And as long as they remain anonymous, the online trafficking of illegal narcotics continues. 

One of the reasons why various federal agencies are teaming together to infiltrate the darknet is because authorities have learned people are also using the dark web to solicit murder for hire.

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