On April 26 last year (2017) a border and customs officer suffered serious respiratory complications after handling parcels at the Canada Post’s Léo Blanchette sorting station in Montreal, Saint-Laurent Borough. His colleagues at the station discovered that the parcels had been imported from Spain and contained fentanyl, an illegal and fatal narcotic 40 times more potent than heroin. The incident led to thorough checks at the station, and 14 similar packages containing fentanyl were seized. The customs police invited their colleagues from the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) who launched the ‘Crocodile’ dark web investigation.
Months after the launch, the spectacular joint investigation led to the first conviction yesterday. Robert Mitrache was sentenced to 12 years imprisonment after he was captured by surveillance cameras in a Canadian postal branch at Place LaSalle paying more than $400 for packages delivered.
The investigation has so far led to the seizure of over 180,000 doses of fentanyl and carfentanil shipped into the country through postal services. The drugs are bought online from the thriving dark web markets and exported by mail to customers anywhere in the world. Most vendors on dark web platforms accept payments exclusively in cryptocurrencies for anonymity.
The Crocodile Operation
The Unit Against Organized Crime (UMECO) leading the joint investigation identified a drug vendor using the username ‘Pharmaphil’ on the dark web who was believed to be the main drug supplier to Robert Mitrache among other dealers in Canada. The Canadian police, with help of officials from an American agency, were able to analyze numerous cryptocurrency transactions on the dark web confirming Robert’s involvement and identifying ‘Pharmaphil’ as Daniel Mitrache.
Daniel Mitrache is Robert’s brother who lives in Spain. However, according to official documents, Daniel lives in the south-east of Montreal which implies that he may have illegally moved to Spain. The detectives began placing controlled orders on dark web from the vendor, which were delivered within days. Together with the controlled orders, over 85 additional parcels destined for different places and for different customers were seized in different mailboxes at Montreal. More than 81 grams of carfentanil, an opioid 100 times more potent than fentanyl and used as an elephant tranquilizer, were recovered.
On December 14, 2017, a couple was arrested after parcels containing drugs destined for their twin house in Châteauguay were seized. The police noticed a hidden entrance into the basement where they found an equipped drug laboratory. In the lab, 958 grams of powdered fentanyl, 472 fentanyl pills, 60 blotters of soaked fentanyl, 24 grams of heroin, 127.5 grams of carfentanil, 1800 blotters of soaked carfentanil, and two digital scales were seized. More envelopes similar to several others seized in mailboxes at Léo-Blanchette and Montreal sorting centers were also recovered. The investigators believe the imported drugs were repackaged in this basement for resale.
Early this year, a day before the arrests, police interrogated a former tenant at a Sherbrook address where ordered drug packages had been delivered from Spain. The tenant admitted to receiving drug packages from Spain saying he owed a certain guy named Rob a drug debt which he had to pay. Rob in this case was later identified as Robert Mitrache.
Robert Mitrache, 30, is the first suspect following the Crocodile operation to be convicted after he pleaded guilty to four counts of charges involving importation and possession of controlled substances with the intention of trafficking. He was given a 12-year jail term yesterday as the trials of the other suspects proceed.
The Crocodile inquiry is the first of its kind involving the dark web and cryptocurrency investigations in Canada and has been termed as the most successful investigation which has led to the seizure of more drugs than anywhere else in the country.