Chief U.S. District Judge Lawrence J. O’Neill sentenced two darknet drug dealers, both a part of separate cases, on the same day in January. He sentenced David Ryan Burchard (CaliConnect) to six years and eight months in prison. The second vendor fared slightly better; the judge sentenced Emil Vladimirov Babadjov (Blime-Sub and BTH-Overdose) to five years and 10 month in prison.
Burchard, a 40-year-old from Merced, California, sold on Silk Road, Agora, Abraxas, Alphabay, and others under the CaliConnect moniker. On Silk Road alone, Burchard sold roughly $1,400,000 worth of drugs. He sold mainly marijuana. And according to an affidavit by an FBI agent who had investigated the case, CaliConnect was the third largest Silk Road vendor. People bought a lot of the man’s marijuana (and some cocaine). And Burchard knew the value of his product. He knew the CaliConnect brand carried weight on the darknet and he wanted people on the clearnet to know it, too.
The investigation into Burchard took 18 months. Agents mined the Silk Road database for information connecting Burchard to CaliConnect. They searched for information on other markets, searched Grams for marketplaces that had a registered vendor with the CaliConnect PGP key, and placed undercover purchases. One of the last nails in the coffin, though, was the discovery that Burchard had applied for a trademark—under his real name—for the word “Cali Connect.” He claimed that the name would be used for clothing and related websites.
Some may remember Burchard as the darknet vendor who used “asshole209” as his password. Using the password, agents decrypted messages and information further connecting Burchard to CaliConnect.
Emil Vladimirov Babadjov, a 33-year-old living in San Francisco, sold heroin, fentanyl, and methamphetamine on Alphabay under the usernames “Blime-Sub” and “BTH-Overdose.” His case proved less colorful; he had no clothing brand or (known) laughable passwords. In a somewhat similar category of information unveiled during a darknet investigation, one agent pointed out that the word “Blime” was “Emil B” in reverse. The majority of the investigation into Babadjov resembled the investigation into any other darknet vendor. Except that Babadjov’s PGP key gave him away.
John Rabaut, part of the Central California Darknet Strike Force, began looking into Babadjov after isolating him as one of Alphabay’s largest fentanyl dealers in late 2015. The full investigation started toward the end of 2016, though, after Agent Rabaut found Reddit posts that indicated Babadjov lived—or at least shipped from—somewhere in California. The investigators got lucky during the investigation, in a manner somewhat similar to the trademark discovery in the CaliConnect investigation. Babadjov created his PGP key and used [email protected]***.com as the email associated with his key. He also used that email address on social network accounts.
Agents connected the dots easily. The United States Postal Inspection Service helped with the vendor’s arrest by identifying the stamps Babadjov used on his packages. One USPIS inspector helped agents find the self-service kiosk where Babadjov had purchased the stamps. The kiosk takes pictures during transactions, and when the USPIS inspector checked the pictures connected to the stamp purchases, she recognized Babadjov from a Facebook picture that connected to an account linked to [email protected]***.com.
Babadjov is already in federal custody and Burchard has until April to turn himself over to federal authorities.