George Cottrell, a man DeepDotWeb covered extensively with respect to the criminal case, received his formal sentencing in early March. In December, 2016, Cottrell pleaded not-guilty to 20 charges out of the 21-count indictment. The charges centered around fraud in general. However, money laundering charges made an appearance too. He pleaded guilty to one count of wire fraud and managed to escape all else—including attempted blackmail against the undercover FBI agents who requested Cottrell’s fraud services. District Judge Diane J. Humetewa sentenced the former UKIP aide to eight months imprisonment, subject to time served.
And since FBI agents arrested the 23-year-old in late July, the US either freed Cottrell or will shortly. The aide landed in the FBI’s scope for Laundering money on the darknet. Posed as two drug dealer, agents approached Cottrell on the darknet. Cottrell, posed as “Bill” advertised and solicited his financial expertise on the darknet. The FBI reported two of said services: money laundering and “financial consultation services.” (Note: although I use Cottrell throughout this piece, the Criminal Complaint spelled the aide’s name ”Cotrel” instead of “Cottrell.” The later indictment charged the name to Cottrell—hence the updated name.)
The ex-UKIP aide—and aide to Nigel Farage nonetheless—guaranteed to launder $150,000 per month through foreign and domestic bank accounts. Cottrell offered the agents “complete anonymity and security” if they acquired Cottrell’s so-called “skills.” Naturally, the money laundering process started off as one might expect. The FBI came back for more. The agents met with Cottrell in Las Vegas for a $20,000 exchange. Following that meeting, Cottrell made matters far worse for himself.
For example, the indictment formally charged Cottrell with a host of money laundering and wire fraud charges. But it also threw in a blackmail charge. He turned and threatened the FBI agents—still posed as drug dealers—and told them unless they paid him $80,000, he would alert the US authorities. He threatened two undercover FBI agents, hence the blackmail charges. To the disappointment of many, Cottrell avoided any blackmail related convictions.
The District of Arizona’s press release went into great depth regarding the darknet, and even Tor received a mention. Acting U.S. Attorney Elizabeth A. Strange said that the Prosecutors Office “is dedicated to prosecuting illegal activity wherever it occurs, including on the ‘dark web,’ which attempts to provide a platform for concealing criminal activity from law enforcement.” IRS Special Agent in Charge Ismael Nevarez Jr. added that “IRS Special Agents are experts in conducting complex financial investigations including those now being committed on the ‘dark web’ with virtual currency.”
The US closed the case against Cottrell but many questions still remain unanswered. For instance, from the very beginning, a darknet entity dubbed the “banker” scored a spot in the Criminal Complaint. Based on the services offered, said pseudonym matched the financial sector Cottrell operated in. However, court documents mentioned Cottrell via “Bill” but “the banker” never made another significant appearance.
In addition to his sentence of time served, Judge Diane J. Humetewa required a restitution payment from Cottrell – $300,000.