Feds Used Reddit Posts to Catch a Fentanyl Vendor
On March 20, 2017, Acting US Attorney for the Southern District of New York announced the arrest of an Alphabay vendor named Fentmaster. For the most part, law enforcement’s investigation followed a standard operation’s trajectory. Save for two distinctions that caught the eyes of the mainstream media and plagues of /r/darknetmarkets readers. First, he set off alarms at the post office for handling his packages with latex-dipped gloves.
And second, the vendor, Chukwuemeka Okparaeke, operated multiple Reddit accounts. That is hardly unusual. Vendors often run a personal account and a private account. However, his vendor account rarely saw any action and his personal account made routine appearances on the /r/darknetmarkets subreddit. So much so that, according to the Criminal Complaint, the account’s comments and stories tied everything together.
Under the pseudonym u/bmoreproduct1, Okparaeke wrote two stories about a darknet fentanyl vendor. Many readers loved and even directly asked for a sequel to “Darknetmarkets short story: Part 1.” Another handful asked him why he thought revealing intimate details about a vendor’s life was a wise choice. He explained that the posts were fiction. Nothing more than that.
Okparaeke—aka Fentmaster on Alphabay, Crassthere on Dream, and Fentmillions on Reddit—asked what a compromised vendor could do, safety-wise, several months before he published the short stories. “When it became clear that my vending was an interest of the feds I flushed all my stock, threw out all my shipping supplies and put myself in vacation mode,” he explained under the Fentmillions persona. “I think the profiling happened because I used the same return address for 300 straight packages and dropped at the same location twice or three times in a row.”
The Fentmaster and Crassthere accounts sold the same products: U-4770, Furanylfentanyl, and Acrylfentanyl. He cycled through many different drugs but those three built his vending platform. Although the names lacked similarities, the general community on Reddit knew and referenced both accounts. He said he sold on Agora as well, but Agora’s passing may have erased any history from that time period. One of the first few comments on his personal account—in an unrelated subreddit—mentioned selling fentanyl on Alphabay and Agora.
He correctly assumed that the feds started profiling him, though. USPS and USPIS employees reported his appearances. They tracked packages. USPIS profiled his packages and found that he used Post Office locations in New York and New Jersey. Through a fairly simple undercover purchase, law enforcement deduced that Okparaeke shipped the packages, at a minimum. Officers observed him drop packages and envelopes off at a location he frequented. That same day, the tracking on Okparaeke’s updated and and reflected the suspected location.
The New York Field Office of Homeland Security Investigations involved themselves in the case after Customs intercepted two of Okparaeke’s packages. According to the criminal complaint, the Customs Agents selected the packages at random, on a routine inspection. Upon opening the packages, HSI Agents discovered a “fentanyl analogue.” (The document never mentions a specific drug; it, instead, alleged that the suspect sold an analogue of fentanyl hydrochloride).
Long story short, from here on out, the investigation carried on smoothly. Okparaeke dug himself deeper into a hole, even though he knew something changed. The change, following the initial Reddit post where he asked for advice, only affected his so-called mules. He posted again as Fentmillions. This time the post itself served as a warning: “ALERT TO VENDORS: HSI and The Postal Inspectors have profiled major Chinese chemical exporters and are making arrests.” Underneath, in the comments section, Fentmillions wrote that he was actually Fentmaster on Alphabay.
And he announced his retirement:
“Homeland Security and the FBI have arrested 3 of the schmucks who I get to pick up packs. If your pack says inbound into customs DO NOT TRY TO PICK IT UP. It is a controlled delivery. One dumbass called the postal service after I specifically told him not to and now he is in jail (his phone GPS showed that he was in a police station). I have to retire and I cleaned house Thanks to the DNM community. All of my current orders will be canceled ASAP. Don’t feel sorry for me. I had a good run. Long live the DNMs.”
It was during the same time period when he started posting the “Darknetmarkets Short Story” series under his personal account, “bmoreproduct1.” The main character boasted about his opsec and ability to outsmart the police. And as Fentmaster, he could not emphasize a similar enough. He distanced himself enough to never face repercussions. His “mules” never knew his name and he secretly installed apps on their phones to watch every move.
“He [referring to the main character] knew all the tricks LE used to get their men in the online drug trade. People usually got shackled for lapses like checking tracking numbers without a VPN, letting people deposit funds into their personal bank accounts, using their credit cards to buy postage and using real return addresses. Jerome vowed to never commit any of these errors.”
Unfortunately for Okparaeke, he already made as many mistakes as the police needed. Homeland Security notified the investigating officer of the packages Customs previously intercepted. They replaced “Package 1” and “Package 2” with dummy packages—named “Package 3” and “Package 4.” USPIS Officer Brad Ruggieri explained the situation and allowed them to act according to pre-authorized investigative procedures. He prepared the Post Office employees for the final stage.
He called the Post Office once tracking information for “Package 1” and “Package 2” updated. One package, authorities mentioned, indicated an arrival at the Middletown Post Office. Okparaeke left the Post Office with a number they could each him at. With Officer Ruggieri and HSI Agents standing by, the Postal worker called the number. Ruggieri wrote that a man who identified himself as “Okparaeke” picked up and said he would pick the package up later that day.
Police, HSI Agents, and USPIS investigators stood by and waited. He arrived and on the way back to his vehicle, the officers intercepted him. After receiving Miranda warnings, “Okparaeke agreed to speak to me and an HSI agent,” the Complaint read.
Okparaeke stated that he did not know the contents of Package-1 or Package-2; Okparaeke stated that he was paid by an anonymous individual to receive packages and to forward them onto a recipient named Xavier Johnson; During the interview, I observed Okparaeke’s Samsung Galaxy S5 cellphone; Okparaeke confirmed, in sum and substance, that the cell phone belonged to him.
The lead USPIS investigator received a warrant for the cellphone he identified. On it, he found several “applications that a used by those involved with darknet narcotics trafficking.” He found Orbot, PIA VPN, a bitcoin price checker, and encrypted messaging apps. On January 30, 2017, Okparaeke received an email from Amazon that contained an order confirmation for 1,000 two-milliliter zip-lock bags.
“On or about February 4,2017, a texting application called “TextNow” was downloaded to the Cellphone,” the USPIS Investigator wrote. The suspect sent a message to an unknown “individual and asked if he would be willing to serve as the recipient for about 20 packages a month in exchange for payment. Based on these messages and the fact that Okparaeke learned approximately three days earlier that his UPS store box was known to law enforcement, I believe that Okparaeke was attempting to recruit an individual to receive shipments of controlled substances on his behalf.”
The final and concluding section of the Complaint brought the Reddit account to light. He found, via Okparaeke’s browsing history, frequent visits to Reddit. Specifically one page where bmoreproduct1 published the darknetmarkets short story. Based on the Reddit account’s post history, the investigator outlined why he believed Okparaeke and bmoreproduct1 were one in the same.
Officer Ruggieri explained that bmoreproduct1 wrote a short story about a former doctor who became a New Jersey based DNM fentanyl vendor. The USPIS investigator specifically pointed out that the protagonist used USPS as a distribution method. “The story discussed several tactics used by the main character to evade law enforcement detection in his fentanyl trafficking activities that are also used by Okparaeke,” he said.
These activities included the following and several more but many activities were ones any vendor accomplished. Non identifying information such as the fact that officers found latex gloves in Okparaeke’s trash can and the main character also used latex gloves:
- The Story describes how the main character uses a VPN application to check online tracking information for controlled substance shipments sent through the USPS in order to mask his IP address. The PIA VPN application was found on the suspect’s cellphone.
- The Story-describes how the main character works with his brother “Xavier”to distribute narcotics. In addition, in a Reddit comment, “bmoreproduct1” references an individual
named Micah Xavier Johnson. When HSI Agent-1 and I interviewed Okparaeke in February 2017, Okparaeke stated, in sum and substance, that he is paid to forward the packages he receives to an Individual named “Xavier Johnson.”
He continued to explain methods in which the Reddit account account connected to the real life defendant. And he stopped relying on the short story; many comments came from the account on personal, non DNM related subreddits.
- In a comment posted on Reddit, “bmoreproduct1″ referenced, in sum and substance, the use of Bitcoin currency to buy kilograms of fentanyl from “Chinese vendors.” Okparaeke had a Bitcoin application on his Cellphone and received Package-1 and Package-2 from Hong Kong.
- In a Reddit comment posted in or about September 2016, “bmoreproduct1” states that he is 27 years old. Based on my review of New York State Department of Motor Vehicle records containing Okparaeke’ s birthdate, I know that in September 2016, Okparaeke was 27 years old.
And last but not least: In a Reddit comment, the defendant wrote “that he drives a Honda and lives in a studio apartment with an air mattress.” He did, in real life, own a Honda Accord. And a picture from Okparaeke’ s Samsung showed a room with an air mattress in it.
On March 20, 2017, law enforcement arrested Okparaeke for the accusations in the complaint—violation of 21 U.S.C. 846 regarding drug trafficking and every relevant charge in the 841 sub-section. The complaint formally charged the suspect with one count of conspiracy to distribute fentanyl analogs over a specific threshold. The minimum sentence for fentanyl analog crimes at this and is 10 years in prison. The maximum is life.