Five Manchester University students are facing jail after the FBI caught them selling $1million in Ecstasy, ketamine and LSD to dark web users in New Zealand and across the globe.
The group, led by a former grammar school pupil, sold the drugs in Bitcoin in a bid to cover their tracks and make it harder for their crime to be uncovered.
The geology, computer science and pharmacology students then enjoyed a “lifestyle far above that of typical students” – partying and selling illegal drugs while in New Zealand, Jamaica, the Bahamas and Europe.
But their operation, which they ran from a city center apartment described as a ‘drug dealing factory’, was finally shut down by the FBI after two years.
The group shifted large quantities of ecstasy, the hallucinogens LSD and 2CB, and ketamine, a horse tranquilizer – across Europe and to customers in New Zealand, Australia, Europe as well as in Manchester.
Petrochemical engineering student Basil Assaf, 26, faces a lengthy prison sentence after admitting to ten counts of drug dealing. He will be charged today with four others facing similar charges.
Inspired by Walter White – the teacher who turned to drug dealing in cult TV show Breaking Bad – the court heard earlier this week how Assaf set up the gang’s account on the Silk Road, an underworld marketplace which ran on the Dark Web – the part of the internet unseen by ordinary browsers – for over two-and-a-half years until the FBI shut it down.
The value of the students’ sales was at least $1.14m, but their profits are likely to have risen exponentially because they took payment in Bitcoin (BTC), the electronic currency which rose in value by 1,000 per cent in 2017, and is free from government and central bank control.
Assaf’s lawyer said he believed his dealing was ‘morally defensible’ because drug use was commonplace at university.
In messages recovered during the investigation, Assaf bosated that “no one could find out how many bitcoins accumulated and are stored elsewhere”.
In another message Assaf said he was “more than happy to do time for all of this. if BTC continues going up whilst we’re inside there’s a chance we’ll come out with mills”.
Prosecutors have so far been unable to trace his Bitcoin, the Daily Mail reported.
The gang ran their worldwide operation for two-and-a-half years from May 2011 to October 2013, after starting to take drugs at university.
The group were caught out following by an FBI investigation into the Silk Road, which shut down the website after seizing its servers in Iceland.
Assaf was the ‘prime mover’, running the Silk Road account and preparing and posting drugs.
The defendants will be sentenced on Tuesday.
(The report originally appeared in NZ Herald)