An international investigation led by the Federal Bureau of Investigation, Europol, and several law enforcement agencies in the Czech Republic aided in the conviction and sentencing of two brothers from Baden-Württemberg who had been selling drugs on a darkweb marketplace hosted in the Czech Republic.
In 2014, the Kriminalpolizei in Lörrach, Germany, arrested two brothers for suspected drug dealing on the internet. Four years after their arrest, a judge at the District Court of Lörrach sentenced both drug dealers to prison sentences. The youngest, a 26-year-old, was sentenced to one year and five months in prison but suspended the sentence for an equal length of time on probation. The judge sentenced the older man, a 35-year-old, to three years and two months in prison. The case took longer than normal to reach this point due to the unusual source of evidence that led to their drug trafficking convictions.
The brothers had been living together in the town of Weil am Rhein in Baden-Württemberg during the first raid in March 2014 and a second raid in October 2014. According to the court, German law enforcement obtained evidence “by chance” that was later used to obtain search warrants for the home where both men had been living and using it as a base of operations for their drug distribution operation. The police thought the duo had been selling ecstasy out of their house and executed the first search in March 2014. Although they found pictures of ecstasy, they never found any physical drugs. Months later, in October 2014, the police had learned that the duo had been selling drugs on the internet. With more “chance evidence,” the police obtained a second search warrant and raided the house in October 2014.
During the second raid, the police found and seized various electronic devices including computers and hard drives, shipping labels, and a price list. A search of the computers resulted in the discovery that the men had active accounts on several darkweb marketplaces where they had been selling ecstasy pills to customers throughout Europe. The investigators also found digital pictures of assorted ecstasy pills, price lists, customer lists, shipping lists, address labels, and proof that both men had been receiving payments in Bitcoin. At this time, though, the prosecutor believed the seized evidence was not enough to convict both men for drug trafficking.
German police reached out to the Federal Bureau of Investigation in the United States. Only months before the first raid at the brothers’ house, the Feds had made some of the first significant moves in investigating darkweb drug markets. Roughly one year after the first raid, the police received information from Europol via financial investigators in the Czech Republic. Czech authorities, in March 2015, arrested the owner of Sheep Marketplace and seized his electronic devices. The Sheep Marketplace owner, Thomas Jiřikovský, had two servers in his possession that the police seized. Those servers contained evidence that later landed him in prison for nine years for stealing Bitcoin from the market’s users. The evidence on the servers linked Jiřikovský to Sheep Marketplace and Europol thought it would also connect the two dealers to the market, as well.
The evidence, it turned out, did help German investigators. According to the court, the information from the seized servers “complimented” information found on computers in the brothers’ house. The prosecutors had a problem with the evidence, though; the servers had been seized without a court order by Czech police, rendering the evidence unusable in a German court. The court convicted both men of minor drug crimes while deciding how to proceed with the evidence they believed had been gathered illegally. In October 2018, the court made a decision. During the sentencing hearing, the judge said that the “Czech Criminal Procedure Code allows local police to confiscate objects without a court order,” meaning the evidence had been legally seized by Czech police.
The judge sentenced the younger brother to one year and five months on probation since he had not committed any crimes since the 2014 arrest. And the older brother received a prison sentence of three years and two months. Much of his time in prison will be suspended once he completes a drug rehabilitation program, the judge explained. The court also shortened each sentence by three months because the case had “dragged on” for far too long for a simple drug trafficking case.