The Alphabay staff member “Trappy” aka Ronald L. Wheeler III pleaded guilty to a federal charge of conspiracy to commit access device fraud. Federal authorities called his guilty plea a win against criminal activity on the darknet.
Wheeler, under the name “Trappy” or “Trappy_AB,” started working for Alexandre Cazes around May 25, 2015. Cazes hired the Atlanta man to work as Alphabay’s so-called public relations specialist. He provided customers with support both on Alphabay and on the Alphabay subreddit, according to federal authorities. Posts on Reddit revealed that Alphabay users rarely received actual support from Trappy. He worked for Alphabay until the site shutdown in July 2017.
U.S. Attorney Byung J. “BJay” Pak said that Wheeler “spent hours on the Dark Web and general Internet providing AlphaBay users tips for attempting to avoid detection by law enforcement.” And that Wheeler’s guilty plea ends his “nefarious career as an AlphaBay promoter.”
The charge stemmed from Wheeler’s connection to Alphabay and to Alexandre Cazes. Even though the “Russian carder” rumors were nothing more than cheap misdirections, Alphabay did have roots in the carding and fraud communities. And of course Trappy had similar roots. Many on the internet wrote that Trappy likely worked his way down to a “conspiracy to commit access device charge fraud” from more severe charges through cooperation with authorities.
If the authorities had offered the man a deal, very little could have kept Trappy from taking the deal. With Alphabay gone and the alleged owner of Alphabay dead, Trappy saw no reason to avoid answering any question asked by investigators. Some, however, mentioned that the market’s so-called spokesperson could only offer so much useful information to authorities. In the same node, the arrest of a lazy customer support representative could not have been as big a success as authorities wanted the public to believe.
Wheeler will end up forfeiting all the money found by US authorities after the arrest roughly three months ago. According to press release that followed Wheeler’s arrest, the Atlanta man had earned 14 bitcoin and 24,000 dollars while working for Alphabay. Many suspect he had earned far more and either spent it or hid it somewhere inaccessible by investigators. The IRS involvement in the case decreases the likelihood that Wheeler will have a cryptocurrency stored away for when he gets out of prison or a federal drug program—wherever they end up sending him.
It is unclear how authorities even tracked down Trappy. The man first lived in a Chicago suburb outside of Cook County. He later, while working for a marketplace, moved to Atlanta, Georgia. For those who have been using darknet markets for a long time, Trappy’s identity or locale may not have come as a surprise. But as an Alphabay employee, Trappy left effectively no clues that pointed to a good identity.
Reddit users have discussed two reasonable identification theories. The first involved Reddit. Trappy used numerous Reddit accounts during his array of darknet market ventures. He may have signed into one via the clearnet on accident. The feds then subpoenaed Reddit and grabbed Trappy’s IP address. The second theory involved the Bitcoin addresses that Cazes had used to pay Trappy. Since Cazes had maintained a document with lists of his assets, the FBI easily found the market’s Bitcoin wallets. Certain outgoing transactions could have been connected to Trappy.
“If people think the Dark Web gives them autonomy to operate illegally behind a cyber-curtain without the scrutiny of law enforcement, then Mr. Wheeler’s plea is a stark reminder that we won’t let that happen,” said David J. LeValley, Special Agent in Charge, FBI Atlanta. “We will not stop diligently prosecuting those who choose to disobey our laws and threaten our communities.”
Wheeler will be sentenced in May 24, 2018.