The infamous AlphaBay vendor “Fentmaster” will spend the next 180 months in prison for selling synthetic opioids through the dark web.
Audrey Strauss, the United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York, announced that Chukwuemeka Okparaeke was sentenced to 180 months in prison after pleading guilty to an assortment of drug charges. Okparaeke, in a plea agreement, admitted selling U-47700, acryl fentanyl, 4-ANPP, and other opioids through the now-defunct AlphaBay Market. Okparaeke operated a vendor account with the username “Fentmaster.” In addition to the drug charges, Okparaeke admitted making false statements to the Government regarding the proceeds of his offenses.
The investigation into Fentmaster involved many of the same procedures used in other darkweb investigations, including controlled purchases and physical surveillance. Articles on DeepDotWeb documented the entire story but those articles are long gone. Some elements of his case stood out as fairly unique.
One good example: Okparaeke stood out to employees of the Postal Service by wearing latex gloves while dropping packages off at the Post Office.
The part the media picked up on involved an account on Reddit that federal investigators linked to Okparaeke. According to the criminal complaint, the feds only identified the account as one belonging to Okparaeke after seizing Okparaeke’s cellphone and searching through his messages, browser history, and more. Okparaeke, under the username “bmoreproduct1,” posted a detailed (fictional) story on the DarknetMarkets subreddit about a fictional darkweb vendor named Jerome Bannister. The story was so similar to Okparaeke’s life that he all but wrote a detailed confession of his crimes. The subreddit was banned in one of Reddit’s early subreddit purges. I found a copy on Archive.is and will include a copy below.
Darknetmarkets short story: Part 1
Darknetmarkets short story: Part 1
Jerome Bannister saw them before they saw him. They were sitting in a Honda Accord near the exit of the strip mall. He couldn’t tell their race, their age but he knew who they were: feds. Jerome knew this time would come. His trade’s enemy was the federal government of the USA. He had done everything to make sure they couldn’t find him. He used multiple drops, changed packaging, always wore gloves when handling packages, and changed return addresses with every shipment. He instinctively stopped walking towards his car and his his body behind a column. “Shit”, he said to himself, “there are feds everywhere”. There was an American muscle car with tinted windows 3 rows behind his car. There was a man sitting down in front of the Shake Shake reading a newspaper.
His heart began racing. They had decided to arrest him now while he was exiting Barnes and Noble. His life was over. He had been selling kilograms of schedule 1 substances. Shipping them via the postal service no less. His list of offenses was long and his sentence would be even longer. Jerome was a 34 year old black man with no run-ins with the law but that was going to end today. The pounding of his heart could be heard in his ears now. The cacophony of his left ventricle as it responded to his sympathetic nervous system was louder than any concert he had been to. He crumpled near the column when the Honda Accord pulled away from his car and circled towards him. He made no effort to run away but was preparing to surrender. He watched enough arrests to know the cops wanted him to get on his knees and put his hands on his head. Or was that in the air? Or maybe they would want him to put his hands on the wall behind him so they could more easily search his pockets. “How fucked am I”, he managed to whisper to himself.
The Accord didn’t stop. Seated inside was a teenage Asian girl who didn’t even look at him. He looked over to the man sitting on the bench in front of his car and saw that he had put down his paper and was playing with a young child.
Kids don’t come with their dads on arrests.
Jerome gathered himself and walked to his new car. It was the only new thing in his life since he began selling on The Underground. He got into his car and realized that he had just had a panic attack. As he drove home he realized his paranoia had boiled over to a new level. He could barely go anywhere without thinking he was about to be arrested. He had made every precaution but still believed he would end up in jail.
“I need to stop dealing, right now”, he said to himself as he walked into his apartment. He arranged his stash in pile near his toilet. He had five kilograms of fentanyl.hcl in his apartment and he was going to flush every single one. Had he sold it gram by gram those 5 kilograms would be worth millions. He principally did bulk deals so he was probably looking at no more than a $1,000,000.00. He had made $656,000 in just 6 months of dealing fentanyl.hcl on The Underground. He was set to make well over a million dollars this year; he made $180,000.00 a year working as Family Medicine doctor working in southern NJ. He had become disenchanted by the long hours and monotony of working in a medicine practice. Federal and state income taxes cut his income almost in half, thus making him slightly better compensated on an hourly basis than a UPS driver. He told himself signing up as a vendor on The Underground was just an experiment but his dealing became so time consuming and prosperous he ended up quitting his job.
It was the boredom of a life of medicine that prevented him from dumping the 5 bricks in front of him. He put them back in his hiding place and sat on his bed and thought. There was truly no way for the police to bust him. He was too careful. Not a detail wasn’t pondered. He drove over an hour from his apartment to drop packages. He always used stamps to do his mailing so there was no connection between him and the packages. He never did deals off the site. He always used gloves to handle packages so he never left prints. He didn’t tie his darknet persona to his real persona in anyway, shape or form. He had read countless criminal complaints to know all the screw ups vendors made and he took every step to avoid them.
He had first learned about fentanyl abuse as a medical resident in Centre Hospital in Virginia. Patients had come in addicted to fentanyl lollipops and fentanyl patches. Patient upon patient told me how they dwindled their life savings for used patches. The addiction was brutal but obviously very lucrative for the dealers who were on the receiving end of these deals. He easily found Chinese vendors for fentanyl and put a few test orders in to see what he received. Some scammed him, some sent alternative things but a few sent the real thing.
He was in business.
The day after Jerome’s panic attack he had driven to Princeton NJ to make his drops at a small post office that he had never been to. It usually took him all night to do orders. He was a popular vendor because of the same day shipping he offered and that he had the lowest prices on the market. He always used The Underground’s escrow system to make sure he never scammed the customers. This ensured him constant business.
After his drops he drove to Trenton for one reason and one reason only: to see Xavier Bannister. Xavier was his fraternal twin but his opposite. Jerome never got into trouble as a kid, Xavier got into plenty. Jerome spent his days doing homework, Xavier spent his days hanging out with friend. The day Jerome went to Rutgers University, Xavier went away for a 4 month prison bid. Jerome was average height and in lean, Xavier had a 6'3" body covered with prison tats and emboldened with prison muscle. Xavier had always try to contact Jerome to talk business ideas but Jerome never agreed for multiple reasons: 1) he had limited funds due to student loans, 2) he was wary of getting involved with a convicted felon.
Jerome was surprised to see Xavier already seated. Usually Xavier’s watch was affected by BPT and thus he ran late. Xavier was seated, sipping on a water, dressed sharply in khaki pants and a button up shirt.
“Good afternoon,” Jerome said as they embraced. “You are looking good.”
“Thanks brother, I love you man,” retorted Xavier.
They talked about their mother, father and siblings. They talked about the New York Giants and their chance to win the Super Bowl. When they were done with the entree Xavier said, “I googled your name and that medical office didn’t have you working there anymore.”
“Yea man, I couldn’t deal with monotony and boredom. I am going to try to become an entrepreneur.”
“How are you surviving right now? How did you pay for that car? I know my brother enough to know you are as conservative as Reagan. You would never spend money without a steady source of income.”
Jerome had been prepared for this. He knew people would ask about how he was earning money so he told Xavier, “I won a lawsuit a while back and have been doing some day trading with the proceeds.”
“Lil’ bro, do you honestly expect me to believe that? You don’t day trade. You studied Biology and went to medical school.”
Jerome started seething. Who the hell was this felon to talk to me like this? With ice in his voice, he asked, “who are you to say that to me?”
Xavier coolly went into his satchel bag and pulled out an priority mail express envelope. The envelope had a stamp affixed and shipping label. Jerome heart dropped into his stomach.
“You are Dr. Janssen, aren’t you?”
Jerome uncharacteristically got angry. How did his brother find out? He knew he had taken every single precaution necessary. How did his multiple felony committing, high school dropout, schmuck brother find out?
“Nigga,” Xavier whispered. “The hand writing is yours, no doubt. You even write your uppity English when writing responses to messages. I had been using The Underground to reup constantly. Your shit is always fire. "
“What the fuck are you talking about,” Jerome said loudly. “I don’t even know..”
“I had my Nigga Malik tail you yesterday. You went all the way down to south Jersey to mail this express envelope. Stop denying this shit man. I can even show you a picture of you going into your trunk to get the packages.”
Jerome was done. He knew he was going to jail. Xavier was probably in trouble and was going to turn him in to the feds for leniency during sentencing. Xavier had some type of microphone on his person. Hell maybe, the restaurant was under DEA surveillance right now. They wanted him to admit it and they would come swooping in. He knew Xavier was pressuring him to incriminate himself right now.
“What do you want?” Jerome managed to get out. His heart in the duldrums.
“I want to talk business. We are about to make some money my, nigga.”
(Did you guys like this? If so, upvote and I will write part 2 tonight or tomorrow.)
Darknetmarkets short story: Part 2
“What trouble are you in? Are you trying to get me busted right now? You are wearing a wire aren’t you?”
Xavier reached across the table and put his hand on Jerome’s and said, " Be easy bro. I ain’t runnin’ game on you. I would eat muh’ gat before I snitched on you."
Jerome contemplated his next move. Under no circumstances should he admit to selling drugs on The Underground. A personal admission of his high crimes would have been insurmountable legally. He was doubtful the feds had wired the restaurant; it was Jerome who had recommended the restaurant an hour before arriving, not Xavier. He really doubted the feds ability to wire the restaurant for sound and video in such a short period of time. He had to make sure Xavier wasn’t wired for sound.
“Dude, before you say another word, stand up, empty your pockets. I want everything placed in that satchel of yours.”
“Man, dis’ is some bullshit. How can you not trust your own brother. I am trying to talk to you about making millions and you are just hyped for nothing.”
“Do it now or I am out of here and I will never talk to you again.” Xavier handed over an iphone, his watch, his wallet and his car keys. He even turned his pockets inside out to satisfy Jerome. Jerome took his items and placed them in the back of his car. He kept Xavier’s car keys and put down three $20.00 dollar bills on the table to cover the bill. “Come with me,” barked Jerome.
He had initially planned to go into the changing room’s of a Walmart with Xavier and make him strip to make sure he wasn’t wearing a wire but he decided that would bring themselves under the ire of the store’s loss prevention staff. Instead he randomly chose a cheap motel and rented a room. Inside the room Xavier stripped for Jerome with little resistance: he wasn’t wearing any type of wire.
“Are you happy now bro? Want to check my anus for a probe?” joked Xavier.
“I am the epitome of caution. Nothing gets overlooked. Now can you please tell me what the fuck are you doing having me followed?”
Xavier let out a smile that was part wry humor and condescension. His brother had always been perfect. People had always asked why he couldn’t be more like Jerome. Why he couldn’t go to school like Jerome. Why didn’t he stay out of trouble like Jerome. Now he had the upper hand and he was going to relish every second of it. " I have been moving some product. On the streets heroin is king. People want that shit man. I move bricks per week but people want a little, oompf with their fix though so I have been sourcing some fentanyl from The Underground."
“Why do you think Dr. Jenssen is me?”
“There was something familiar about the hand writing. It clicked when I found an old letter you wrote to me when I was locked up in Bloomfield and the hand writing was as exact. Your writing is the same as well. You are always so uppity when you type. I had the suspicion for a while so I hired my boy Malik to tail you and he told me you were dropping packages all over the place when you had a post office literally on the same city block.”
Jerome had not factored this into his threat assessment when contemplating vending on The Underground.
“How much have you made since you started. You are moving packages like a slave ship, muh nigga.”
“$650 grand and some change,” retorted Jerome. His first admission to another person of his darknet activities. Xavier let out a whistle and said, “That is some change but you are leaving some coin on the table my Nigga, fo real. I am looking for a partna’ to help me move on up man. I am talking millions per month!”
Jerome contemplated his options. He had a strong urge to hail an Uber and go back to his car. Of all the mistakes made by people in prison it is getting involved with people who are multiple time felons. You name, Xavier had done. Drug possession, check. Assault and battery, check. Gun possession, check. Xavier had last been imprisoned 3 years ago and seemed to be itching to go back, this time for decades.
“What is your plan to make ‘millions’?”
“Nigga, the darknet markets are the truth. Drugs to your door whether you are rich or poor. No chances of the po-po arresting you while you slangin’ on dat block. Half da’ work is done by the postal service and da’ otha’ half is done by the site. I want to join forces with you. I see you moving the the fent but it is the H that people want and I can get bricks straight from Nairobi fo’ cheap, muh nigga.”
Jerome knew since Xavier’s last bid he had been working as a deckhand on ships since he was paroled in 2013. It was the only type of work his multiple time felon ass could get with decent pay. Xavier always updated his instagram with pictures of Tanzania, Kenya and Ethiopia. Jerome was happy that his brother had gotten such promising employment but now knew Xavier had gone back to his old ways but with international pals.
“Man, I am sorry but I am fine working on my lonesome.”
“Dude, we can get start ASAP. Man, I just thew a lot on your back right now. Let me talk to you in 24 hours. Sleep on it. We can team up and take the Darknets ova’.”
With that, Jerome and Xavier left the motel and drove back to the restaurant. Jerome gave back Xavier’s belongings and drove back to his studio apartment. He logged in to The Underground and completed remaining orders and readied them for an early morning drop-offs. Before he went to bed he thought about Xavier’s offer and knew what the answer was.
Jerome dropped his packages a little early and had been looking at primary care jobs in the midwest. The pay was better out there and Jerome had a clean medical license and DEA number. He could use his darknet earnings to move Kansas City or Reno or Bakersfield. Hell, he could do more medical training via a fellowship. Jerome deep down inside knew he had erred going to medical school. His family was lower middle class: his mother was a nurse’s aide and his father a machinist. They weren’t poor but they weren’t rich. His father was a former marine who drilled discipline and respect into them from young age. Jerome’s dad would take the family out on Saturday’s and Sunday’s to rich neighborhoods and say to his kids, “If you work hard and focus on school you guys can be living in these palaces.” He had followed his dad’s advice and entered the medical field. From the outset of residency he hated life as a doctor. Three quarters of his job was seeing the same conditions every single day: diabetes, emphysema, arthritis, etc.. He had lasted 4 years before he decided to hang up his stethescope. He hadn’t told anyone anyone about quiting medicine but he knew his family would find out eventually.
Jerome’s ruminating on his 34 years of life ended with an alert from his phone. Xavier had sent him a message via a popular encrypted messaging app. With normal text messages, cops could see the content of your messages. With this app, cops couldn’t see any content of the messages because they were scambled. Xavier had become an operational security afficionado. He had started reading computer programming magazines to stay up to date with encryption technology. He learned how to use PGP, veracrypt, and various other open source tools. He also had signed up for PACER, a database of indictments, criminal complaints and other legal documents. He 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. He was happy that Xavier knew the bare minimum when it came to OPSEC.
“Are you done for today?”
“Okay, why don’t you bring dat whip ova to 390 Simpson Dr in Capital City.”
Before Jerome went to bed he decided to tell his brother no but his curiosity was eating at him. He responded yes. He quickly put on gym clothes and googled the address. It was a small office in an industrial zone. The area was fairly safe and middle class. When he arrived Xavier was waiting outside for him.
“Welcome to my humble office,” Xavier said as he opened the door and Jerome followed. Inside was a room no greater than 70 feet long and 20 feet wide. The floor was bare concrete and the walls were barren brick. But the bricks that caught Jerome’s attention weren’t the ones that made up the walls but the ones that were laid out on the folding table. Xavier saw Jerome’s eyes light up and he smiled. Baby bro probably had never seen product before. He ambled over to the table picked up one of the tan plastic wrapped bricks of heroin and tossed it to his brother.
“That is how we make out money. We about to be the kings of smack on the underground. I get each kilo for $3000.00 from a Kenyan connect. Kenya has some of the cheapest H outside of Afghanistan son. It is easy as fuck to smuggle this shit off the boat when we dock in Elizabeth. It is a cakewalk.”
“How did you rent this office?”
“Fake ID and money orders son, they don’t know who I am or where I rest my head at, best believe that.”
Xavier opened one of the tan bricks with a box cutter. He used a small scientific spatula to spoon it into a small plastic container and added an advanced reagant. The reagant turned the plastic container a dark maroonish color.
“That shit is 75 percent pure. This is the best shit outside Sinaloa and we got. I am guessing we can get a $150,000.00 profit off each brick after we step on it.”
Jerome’s head was spinning. On the table were 20 bricks of heroin. That was worth millions. He wasn’t walking away from this money. Fuck the midwestern job telling obese women that maybe if they stopped eating ice cream before breakfast maybe there blood sugar would go down. Fuck telling smokers that they should switch to the patch. He was going to make this money.
“When do we start?”
For weeks Jerome and Xavier would work together on their illicit enterprise. Jerome sold his first gram of the heroin a few minutes after putting up a listing on The Underground. The first reviews were glowing. People were saying this was the best H they ever had. It dissolved in water like Hillary Clinton’s lead during the last election. There sales had ratcheted up to $50,000.00 a week easily. Before they started vending (the word used by certain reddit communities to describe selling drugs on The Underground) Xavier had to be taught how to vend without being sent up the river. He had to wear gloves always. This was especially important for someone like Xavier whose prints were in the system. Whenever Jerome and Xavier went into their office they donned latex gloves. They also made sure to wear masks as they cut the heroin and put it into baggies. They used food saver equipment to make an airtight barrier and put the heroin in another envelope that was sealed with an iron.
It was Jerome who was responsible for turning the btc into cash for Xavier. Jerome didn’t mind holding his BTCs in cold storage in electreum wallet on encrypted USB drives stashed in many places. Xavier loved the hard cold cash. Jerome usually sold bitcoins using the site Localbitcoins. He had met a little nerd Asian named Hector Chu. Chu and Jerome would meet in Chinatown. Chu was no older than 23 with an acne covered face and a pudgy body. They would meet up in a restaurant selling Manhattan’s missing cats and dogs as soup and do the exchange there. He would get 97 cents on the dollar, just how he liked it. Chu always asked about how he was getting the coins and Jerome told him had mined them in 2009. In return, Jerome would ask Chu where he got the thousands upon thousands of dollars in cash. Jerome knew Chu was probably using him to launder money from the Chinatown underworld and he frankly didn’t care.
There was no division of labor as they tried to get the orders out as quickly as possible. They were burning through stamps and were buying 1000 stamps every 14 days. At the end of the 8 weeks Jerome and Xavier had cleared $400,000.00. The split was down the middle but Jerome decided to give $30,000.00 to Xavier to cover 50% of the cost of the heroin. Xavier never told Jerome exactly how he got ther heroin off the boat and he frankly wasn’t interested as long as it was discrete and the cops didn’t know. Jerome always did the drops; driving an 60 to 90 minutes one way in random directions to make his drops. He loved listening to books while he drove. He started listening to Thomas Sowell and fell in love with Temple University economist’s ability to turn difficult subject matter into romantic prose. He was listening to economics in one lesson when he saw the police lights flash behind.
“How fucked am I?” he said to himself with exasperation. In the truck were 100 packages containing heroin and fentanyl. One of those letters were enough to send him to prison and all of them in totality were enough to put him in the click for decades. He pulled over into a strip mall. He quickly put his driver’s license, registration and proof of insurance in his left hand and rolled down his window. The cop was a Hispanic dude with broad shoulders and a strong jawline. He wasn’t wearing the Nazi style police uniforms but just khakis, a polo with Capital City police embossed above the left breast and an intimidating hand gun on his right hip.
“License and registration,” the cop commanded in crisp mid-atlantic English. Jerome gave it to him without a moments hesitation. He tried to be cool but knew the cop had all the power. The cop went back to his car and was back at the driver’s side window in 5 minutes.
“Sir, can you get out of the car please.” Jerome unbuckled his seat belt and stepped out. His heart was entering a drumming contest and beating so hard he though it would break his ribs. Once out of the car the cop grabbed him by the wrists and put him in handcuffs.
“What is this about?” blirted Jerome.
“Drug trafficking,” the cop said as he leaned into the car to pop the trunk. “Pay dirt,” he exclaimed as he saw the priority mail packages in their plastic postal services bins.
Jerome’s heart sunk. It finally happened. One could only fuck the government until the government got an erection of its own. His life was over. Jerome didn’t protest as he was put into the back of the police car. He saw the cop close the trunk and drive the car into one of the parking spots. A white woman had come out of one of the stores of the strip mall and asked loudly what he had done. The cop didn’t respond but Jerome noticed she shot him a smirk.
Jerome was puzzled. Why is a local cop arresting him? Where were the feds? Surely they would want a photo op? The cop drove Jerome to the police station. He knew he would have his photo taken, finger prints lifted and particulars recorded. This didn’t happen as the cop took him through the back door and sat him down in an interrogation room. He knew the cops had his driver’s license so that had his name, residence, and date of birth. He knew the best thing to do in this situation is to plead the fifth, ask for an attorney and instruct the cop that he had nothing to say to him. The cop who had arrested him came in without any emotion and sat down. He asked Jerome if he needed to use the rest room. Jerome answered no.
“You know you are in a shitload of trouble right?”
“I plead the fifth. I want to speak to an attorney and I respectfully decline to answer any and all questions from you,” Jerome said without a beat. He knew this would end the interview. The cops would take him to be booked and he would enter the morass that is the justice system.
“Give up your partner and we will go easy on you,” the latino said. Jerome just stared at him coldly. “Where is your base of operations? Where is your money? Give up your partners and I can make this all go away.” Jerome continued to stare at him coldly. He thought the cop was an idiot but maybe this happens all the time. He wasn’t even close to breaking. Who did this spic think he was talking Dr. Bannister like that.
“I want an attorney, I know you heard me the first time.”
“No attorneys for scum like you. You are pushing poison. I should slap the hell out of you right now.”
This set Jerome off. He was mad now. This guy was violating his civil rights and being a prick. Against his brains warning lights alerting him what he was about to do was a bad idea, he stood up and looked down on the cop and said, “Bitch, did I stutter? I want my lawyer and I want him now.”
The cop glared at him and balled up his fists. Now he got the message and left the room. When he came back in he uncuffed Jerome. To his amazement, he wasn’t being lead to the holding cells but to the parking lot. The cop put him back into the car and drove him back to his car.
Xavier was standing in the parking lot when the cop arrived in the parking lot.
“Damn bro, you passed! I was scared you were going to rat me out the second the cop pulled you over but you stood your ground. I thought your little doctor ass was going to break.”
“Fuck you man!” Jerome yelled at his brother. He tried to charge his brother but the cop got in between them. Even though Xavier was bigger and stronger Jerome didn’t care.
“Jerome, let me introduce you to my man Malik Juarez. He is the head of the Central Jersey Joint Task Force for opiate interdiction.”
The cop shot Jerome a smile that slightly disarmed him. They shook hands and Jerome’s temper was cut in half by the fact that he was never under arrest.
“I had to make sure you wouldn’t rat. You have never been in trouble a day in your life nigga. I had to make sure you wouldn’t break like a chicken bone. I am sorry, but I had to make sure.”
The officer interjected, “I met Xavier when we were doing sweeps . We were picking up some low level heroin dealers. I was impressed by his crew so we decided join forces. I give him some information about police operations in the area and he makes sure I can send my kids to Exeter.”
With that, Xavier pulled out a stack of hundred dollar bills and handed it to Malik. " I hope you don’t mind that coming out of your cut," Xavier said with a smile.
(Should I write part 3? Upvote if you think I should.)
In his guilty plea, Okparaeke admitted selling U-47700 to an 18-year-old who fatally overdosed on the drug (he did not admit knowing his anonymous customer was an 18-year-old who would later overdose). He admitted that his drug trafficking operation involved over nine kilograms of acryl fentanyl, nearly six kilograms of U-47700, over one kilogram of furanyl fentanyl, and well as 12 grams of 4-ANPP. Fentmaster on AlphaBay had conducted more than 7,000 sales and generated 680.60963624 Bitcoin in profit.
Okparaeke took a bold step during a meeting with representatives of the U.S. Attorney’s Office (USAO) for the Southern District of New York. The meeting concerned Okparaeke’s Bitcoin earnings. As readers who follow such cases know, the U.S. government will take your earnings in a drug trafficking case. Okparaeke told the USAO representatives that the Bitcoins were “no longer in his possession and control and that a third party had stolen the Bitcoins from him through hacking and other unauthorized access to [his] electronic accounts.” This was, of course, patently false and Okparaeke later forfeited the Bitcoin to the United States Postal Inspection Service. The false statements charge stemmed from this incident.
In addition to the prison term, Okparaeke, 32, of Middletown, New York, was sentenced to five years of supervised release and ordered to forfeit $105,177.30 in United States currency and 680.60963624 Bitcoins.
The Okparaeke complaint is worth reading.