According to an announcement from the United States Department of Justice, a joint operation conducted by several branches of law enforcement led to the arrest of one of the most prolific fentanyl vendors on the darknet. The operation, codenamed “Operation Darkness Falls,” targeted fentanyl dealers both in and out of the United States.
Matthew Roberts and Holly Roberts, two 35-year-old residents of San Antonio, Texas, controlled a massive opioid distribution operation from 2011 until their arrests in early 2018, Attorney General Jeff Sessions said in a statement. Before their arrests in May of this year, the Roberts controlled the most successful fentanyl account operated from within the United States and the fourth most prolific vendor account in world, authorities said. The duo allegedly operated multiple accounts but sold primarily on their most successful account—MH4Life.
United States Attorney Justin E. Herdman acknowledged that law enforcement has adapted to the changed mechanics of modern drug trafficking. “These cases demonstrate that those who think they are hiding behind a cloak of anonymity on the darknet will be uncovered and brought to justice for selling the drugs killing our friends and neighbors,” the United States Attorney said. Herdman is the United States attorney for the Northern District of Ohio—the charges against the Roberts duo were filed in the United States District Court in Cleveland. Officials from government agencies that investigated people and organizations during Operation Darkness Falls. These agencies included the United States Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA); United States Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE); Homeland Security Investigations (HSI); the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI); and the United States Postal Inspection Service (USPIS).
The alleged fentanyl traffickers, between 2011 and 2018, used several dark web market accounts and quickly rebounded once a market fell due to an exit scam or law enforcement intervention. In addition to the MH4LIFE account on the Dream dark web market, the duo created and used TRAPPEDINTIME, FASTFORWARD and MRHIGH4LIFE, a Department of Justice spokesperson said.
Investigators alleged that the duo launched their operation at roughly the start of dark web drug trafficking in 2011. Their first account was on the Silk Road market. They then opened accounts on Dream market, AlphaBay, Nucleus, Darknet Heroes League, and others. Given that all but one of the above markets have been taken down by the police or have been pulled offline by market owners, the account that attracted the most attention was on Dream.
At the time of their May arrest, the account had 2,800 confirmed transactions. Like many marketplaces, Dream allows vendors to verify their accounts on other markets to add to the authenticity of the Dream account and boost the vendor’s credibility. On the MH4LIFE Dream account, the Roberts team had verified their accounts on both Nucleus and Agora. The duo had more than 500 verified transactions on Agora and 719 verified transactions on Nucleus. Even at almost 3,000 transactions on Dream by itself, MH4LIFE maintained a rating of 4.89/5 stars. The MH4LIFE account on Dream was last active on April 25, 2018. Dream staff have since banned the account and the account’s status is “retired.”
MH4LIFE’s final update to customers took the form of a cryptic warning in the “Terms and Conditions” page on the vendor’s profile. The first paragraph provided very little information on the topic at hand but proved the above owners had known something bad had happened. The were willing to take the loss and recommended that others do the same:
“Code Red. Change your drop spots immediately. This is all I can say. Take the loss and leave negative [feedback]. Assume address[es] and packs have been compromised. Do not send messages or inquire about past orders. Please trust and cut ties. This tragic for all.”
The Roberts were both arrested only days after their most recent account activity. Charges against the duo are currently pending in the United States District Court in Cleveland. Other vendors named in the Operation Darkness Falls press release were also named in the Operation Dark Gold press release but none of them reached the level of notoriety among law enforcement that the Roberts had reached.