Luis Fernandez, one of two co-conspirators convicted of selling carfentanil and other opioids through the “Chemsusa” darkweb vendor account, was sentenced to 151 months in prison. During sentencing, the court heard that Fernandez was responsible for “shipping death” to hundreds of customers throughout the United States.
The United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York, Geoffrey S. Berman, announced the sentence on October 1, 2019. Fernandez had previously pleaded guilty to conspiracy to distribute carfentanil, fentanyl, and fentanyl analogues through the darkweb as well as one count of possession of a firearm by a convicted felon. In addition to the 151 month prison sentence, U.S. District Judge Denise L. Cote ordered Fernandez to forfeit $269, 623 as proceeds of the carfentanil distribution conspiracy.
“Luis Fernandez and his co-defendant Richard Castro sold large quantities of fentanyl and carfentanil to hundreds of individuals across the country, including over the dark web," U.S. Attorney Berman said. Today’s sentence should be another clear reminder that any short-term profits from drug dealing are not worth the long-term price.”
Fernandez and his co-defendant Richard Castro operated the vendor accounts “Chemsusa” “Chems_usa,” and “Chemicalusa” on a number of darkweb markets including Dream Market and Alphabay Market. On Dream, Chems Usa claimed they had a total of 3,200 transactions on other darkweb markets. Fernandez and Castrok operated the vendor accounts from November 2015 through their arrests in March 2019.
Fernandez managed the conspiracy’s stash house, packaged narcotics, and shipped the narcotics via U.S. mail from the New York City area to hundreds of individuals throughout the United States. For example, in early March 2019, FERNANDEZ was observed dropping several envelopes in a mailbox in Coney Island, New York; law enforcement seized and searched these envelopes, each of which contained carfentanil.
After five undercover purchases from Castro on Alphabay, law enforcement learned about a bitcoin exchange where Chemsusa had an account. They had associated one of Chemsusa’s email addresses with the exchange account. Chemsusa used different accounts for connecting with his customers and later moved all of his business to direct deals via email. He used the encrypted email service Protonmail. In a criminal complaint, law enforcement noted that Protonmail was largely immune from the reach of law enforcement in the United States and European Union.
With this email address and knowledge of one of Chemsusa’s accounts at a bitcoin exchange, law enforcement pivoted to other email addresses and bitcoin addresses. They identified several accounts at a number of exchanges. Some of the accounts had email addresses connected to elements of Castro’s real identity. Investigators learned that Chemsusa had charged customers $104 for access to his private email shop. He had several email accounts ending in 104. Castro’s birth-date was 4/10/[year]. Castro had social accounts with the same format.
Law enforcement, using blockchain analysis software, learned that Castro had purchased gold from an online gold broker using the name Richard Castro and paying with bitcoin from the exchange account they had originally identified. The online gold broker revealed that Castro had provided the broker with his personal email address. This time, according to court documents, law enforcement had lucked out; Castro’s personal email address was not a Protonmail account. They received a warrant that authorized law enforcement to access the contents of the account. On the account they found dozens of emails from the exchange Castro had been using.
A court order authorized the use of a pen register and tap-and-trace device on Castro’s ISP. They monitored his internet activity and observed as a device accessed Protonmail and the bitcoin exchange identified previously.
Law enforcement identified Castro’s primary shipper using surveillance cameras at the Post Offices from which Chemsusa packages originated.