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Italian Police Bust a Group of Drug Dealers and Bitcoin Launderers

An investigation conducted by Italian law enforcement concluded after a series of coordinated raids in several cities in Italy led to the arrest of nine suspected drug dealers and money launderers in early October 2018. According to an announcement from the Polizia di Stato (State Police), the suspects had been operating a massive marijuana distribution operation involving internet drug sales, bitcoin payments, and the conversation of bitcoin to hundreds of thousands of euros.

At a press conference hosted by Italian authorities, Padua officials revealed that the Padua Mobile Unit, the Central Operations Service, and the Scientific Police Service have been quietly investigating a drug syndicate with suspected conspirators in cities of Turin, Milan, Vicenza, and Treviso. Padua officials told the press that the investigation began in mid-2017. The Padua Mobile Unit learned of drug activity connected to a “criminal association dedicated to drug dealing” that had been moving a significant amount of marijuana and related products. The dealers allegedly sold dry marijuana and hashish of a very high quality. According to the police, the marijuana and hashish contained far more active ingredients [THC, CBD, and other cannabinoids] than the majority of the marijuana available locally. Specifically, the marijuana was up to three times more potent than any marijuana (and/or related marijuana products) found on the street or seized during the average arrest.

The suspected drug syndicate allegedly rented a house in Padua that served as the base of operations. From the house, the police explained, the group operated a “thriving drug shop.” The law enforcement officers who participated in the investigation conducted thorough research in an effort to gather conclusive evidence that incriminated all suspected conspirators. During the investigation, the Padua Mobile Unit and the Central Operations Service succeeded in infiltrating the suspected syndicate; a significant portion of the evidence used during the investigation came from two undercover law enforcement officers or individuals working with the police while simultaneously helping the suspected drug dealers further their drug trafficking enterprise and launder the proceeds of drug sales.

“The agents who infiltrated the group […] allowed the police to fight the spread of drugs at both a local level—which is serious—and at the level of large organizations that earn millions and millions of euros,” one official said in a different press release than the one published on the State Police’s website. The raids conducted by the Mobile Units in Turin, Milan, Vicenza, and Treviso yielded a number of arrest and massive amounts of drugs, and also more than 205,000 euros in cash. The undercover police officers primarily helped law enforcement understand the flow of the syndicate’s money and learn the details of the “technical activities” of the group. Officials said that the undercover police officers “risked themselves for the good of the community” and that the seized fund will be used to strengthen the staff of our law enforcement agencies.”

Investigators learned that the drug proceeds were often “reinvested” from bitcoin into other “virtual currencies.” The specific virtual currencies used by the group—other than bitcoin—were not revealed to the public. The police learned that bitcoin was used to pay for marijuana orders thanks to information passed along by both undercover officers. Two members of the group were allegedly responsible for “reinvesting” the majority of the proceeds to ensure the police would “lose track” of the cryptocurrency. The police are conducting a more detailed investigation of the laundered cryptocurrency and a similarly detailed investigation into the purity of some of the untested substances seized during the raids.

In the raid at the house in Padua that the group had allegedly used as a base of operations, the police seized more than 100 kilograms of marijuana and 20 kilograms of hashish. The police reported that the drugs totalled roughly 3,000 doses of the marijuana. The police also seized smaller amounts of marijuana at the homes of some of the conspirators. Five suspects are currently in police custody. Two are under house arrest. One has simply been notified of the charges. And the status of the last suspect is unknown.

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