A man from Iowa, who ordered more than a kilogram of methamphetamine on the dark web, was sentenced to ten years in prison followed by another five years of supervised release. Officials claimed that the man had been ordering drugs to resell locally at the time of his arrest.
United States District Court Judge Linda R. Reade sentenced a man from Vinton, Iowa, to 120 months in a federal prison for conspiracy to distribute methamphetamine. William Vanatti, 36, entered a guilty plea for the single methamphetamine charge on June 25, 2018. Vanatti’s attorney had arranged a plea deal that significantly benefited the defendant; the prosecution likely had enough evidence for a conviction on a number of similar charges, such as marijuana distribution, MDMA distribution, possession of a firearm in the commission of a felony, possession of explosive devices, and a number of other related crimes.
The investigation began in February 2018 after a woman brought a bag of methamphetamine and Legos to the police department after finding them inside a package in her mailbox. A mail carrier had delivered an unexpected package containing Legos earlier that day, she told the police. Upon examination, she noticed a small bag of drugs. Law enforcement conducted a drug test on the substance in the bag, and the substance tested positive for methamphetamine. The woman explained to the police that she had not ordered or purchased methamphetamine and that she had not asked anyone to send her the package. She had not asked anyone to send her a package of Legos, either. At first, the case seemed random. Hundreds of investigations into dark web vendors had a very similar beginning.
Law enforcement, especially in Germany and Austria, often catch dark web vendors, who routinely apply insufficient postage to their packages. As a result, a very small number of houses and businesses receive unwanted packages of drugs. The packages have the innocent third party’s address as the return address listed even though the third party did not ship the package. Instead, the drug dealer used the address as the return address on packages mailed to various customers. When a package lacks sufficient postage, the postal service rejects the package and sends it to the return address listed on the package. When the unsuspecting third party receives a package of drugs, they take the package to the police. Since vendors often use the same return address for dozens of packages, this pattern continues for a long time, giving the police important information about their customers, their shipping habits, and sometimes their fingerprints or DNA.
In this case, though, the woman, who had brought the package of Legos and meth to the police, knew something useful to investigators: someone had targeted her for revenge. For undisclosed reasons, she suspected that someone who knew her had sent the package, hoping the package would cause a problem in her life. Court documents did not detail the specifics of the drama between the meth recipient and the person who she suspected had sent her the package of meth and Legos. The documents never confirmed whether the suspect had actually sent the package or if someone else had sent her the bag of meth. However, her information sent the police on an investigation that led directly to Vanatti.
The United States Postal Service and United States Postal Inspection Service monitored mail headed to and from Vanatti’s address in Vinton, Iowa. In March, K-9 units hit on two packages addressed to Vanatti’s P.O. Box at the Shellsburg Post Office. Postal Inspectors waited for Vanatti to pick up the packages before any further action. Once Vanatti had arrived at the Shellsburg Post Office, Postal Inspectors detained him and questioned him about the contents of the packages. During the session, Vanatti admitted that he had been ordering methamphetamine, marijuana, and MDMA from dark web vendors and then selling the drugs to local customers. One of the packages seized by Postal Inspectors contained almost three pounds of methamphetamine.
The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (ATF or BATF) joined other Iowa authorities in searching Vanatti’s property after Postal Inspectors had placed him under arrest. They found methamphetamine, marijuana, MDMA, a handgun, and two explosive devices.