Canadian authorities have charged two suspected dark web drug traffickers in connection with a series of fentanyl and carfentanil seizures between 2016 and 2017. The suspects were caught last year after a multi-jurisdictional operation called “Project E-Neophile” led by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police to buildings owned by two individuals in Kelowna, Canada.
James Nelson, 36, and his wife Cassie Bonthoux, 30, face 14 counts of trafficking controlled substances, importing controlled substances, exporting controlled substances, and related crimes. According to the Kelowna RCMP, the duo imported massive quantities of carfentanil and fentanyl from China and resold the potent opioids to buyers on darknet marketplaces. They had allegedly been shipping the drugs to customers in the United States, Europe, Australia, and Canada.
The Kelowna RCMP Street Enforcement Unit launched Project E-Neophile in 2016 after law enforcement had intercepted as many as 25 packages of fentanyl and carfentanil headed from addresses in China to one of the locations Nelson and Bonthoux had allegedly been using as a base of operations. According to the RCMP, their clothing store “Duke and Duchess Apparel” was used as one of the bases of storage.
After a package interception last year, the RCMP arrested both suspects and raided both their home and clothing shop. Police placed signs in the windows of both the house and store that warned people of possible contamination due to the presence of the opioids. During the raids, the RCMP seized illegal firearms and almost $70,000 in Bitcoin.
Sgt. Alex Lynch of the Kelowna RCMP Street Enforcement Unit explained that the case involved other Canadian law enforcement units and the United States Drug Enforcement Administration. United States Customs had intercepted dozens of packages of fentanyl entering the U.S. that had originated from roughly the same location. The RCMP had allegedly focused on the duo for months before the alleged drug distribution had stopped. Sgt. Lynch said the duo “went silent on the darknet.” They had allegedly connected the duo to a dark web vendor identity. The disappearance happened in July 2017—the same month an international operation brought down Alphabay and Hansa.
The dealers allegedly resurfaced on another dark web marketplace not long after Alphabay closed. Kelowna RCMP monitored their presence on the dark web and their real life activities in order to collect evidence linking the identities. Yet, after arresting Bonthoux and Nelson last year, Kelowna officials let both alleged dealers walk. The duo faced charges but, until now, had not been officially charged with any crimes.
Officials have not yet released the information usually released to the public this late in the pretrial phase. That will likely change once the couple face a judge for the new drug trafficking charges.