Only months after the alleged owner of Alphabay had died in a prison cell in Thailand, the United States found and indicted the Alphabay staff member “Trappy.” On August 1, 2018, U.S. District Judge Leigh Martin May sentenced the Alphabay to almost four years in prison for conspiracy to commit access device fraud.
U.S. District Judge Leigh Martin May sentenced Ronald L. Wheeler III 46 months in federal prison. After release, Wheeler will spend another three years on supervised release. Byung J. Pak, United States Attorney, and Samir Kaushal, Assistant United States Attorney for the Northern District of Georgia filed a sentencing memorandum that suggested a sentence on the lower end of the sentencing guidelines range.
The United States Attorneys recommended a variance of one level for Wheeler’s expeditious entry of a guilty plea. Wheeler, during a change of plea in March, signed a plea agreement wherein he admitted committing the one count of conspiracy to commit access device fraud in exchange for the prosecution sentencing recommendation. The agreement also required Wheeler’s full cooperation in any future investigations. Cooperation, according to court documents, could require producing all records related to a case; being available for interviews by law enforcement at his own expense; testifying in another trial; and aiding in an investigation without falsely implicating anyone.
U.S. Attorney Pak’s recommended a prison sentence of 46 months in a sentencing memorandum and explained why such a sentence was necessary, saying, “Wheeler profited off the ruination of countless individuals’ lives by providing access to and promoting AlphaBay, a vast online criminal marketplace that offered stolen personally identifying information, hacking tools, and a cornucopia of illegal drugs, including Fentanyl.” Throughout the case, the prosecutors pointed to comments made by Wheeler on Reddit (as Trappy) as proof of Wheeler’s direct involvement with alpha02 aka Alexandre Cazes.
Even in the absence of drug charges, Judge May recommended Wheeler complete the government’s “inmate rehab” known as Residential Drug Abuse Program (RDAP) while in the Federal Bureau of Prison’s custody. Inmates enrolled in a BOP RDAP program spend nine months housed in a facility or housing facility separated from the prison general population. Inmates in RDAP must take several substance abuse classes every day while maintaining a “job” in prison.
The judge also recommended the BOP place Wheeler in a facility near Chicago where his family lived. Once released, Wheeler must—according to the terms of his supervision—complete a mental health evaluation and a drug and alcohol treatment program (in some situations, RDAP/RSAP completion meets the treatment program requirements). Even though the government has already seized Wheeler’s 13 bitcoin and $27,500 in cash, the judge also ordered Wheeler forfeit (all of it) roughly $140,000 in assets.
As with the majority of successfully prosecuted cases involving the darknet, a government official said something that contradicted the government’s entire “going dark” narrative. “This case shows, once again, that criminals cannot hide in the shadows of the Dark Web,” U.S. Attorney Pak said. He congratulated law enforcement on ending this “nefarious” criminal’s career as an Alphabay spokesperson.