Ronald L. Wheeler III, a/k/a Trappy, has been sentenced for conspiracy to commit access device fraud while working as a public relations specialist for the Dark Web Marketplace AlphaBay.
“By providing access to and promoting AlphaBay, this defendant profited off the ruination of countless individuals,” said U.S. Attorney Byung J. “BJay” Pak. “This case shows, once again, that criminals cannot hide in the shadows of the Dark Web.”
“Wheeler felt like he was shielded from law enforcement by operating on the Dark Web, but he was clearly mistaken,” said Ricardo Grave de Peralta, Acting Special Agent in of FBI Atlanta. “Cyber criminals like him present a critical threat to our community’s, in this case, by encouraging people to purchase illegal drugs and contraband. No matter where crime happens, the FBI will not stop diligently prosecuting anyone who chooses to threaten our citizens.”
“Sites like Alphabay are extremely problematic and the sentence handed down to Wheeler should send a clear message that when criminals participate in these Dark Web sites, you will be caught and face jail time,” said Thomas J. Holloman, Special Agent in Charge of IRS, Criminal Investigation. “We will continue working with our law enforcement partners in dismantling these Dark Web sites.”
According to U.S. Attorney Pak, the charges and other information presented in court: Wheeler conspired with Alexandre Cazes a/k/a Alpha02 a/k/a Admin, and others to commit access device fraud through the operation of The Onion Routing Dark Web marketplace AlphaBay.
AlphaBay was an international criminal marketplace that enabled users to purchase and sell stolen and fraudulently obtained access devices, illegal drugs, firearms, hacking tools, and other illicit goods and services. Sales listings on the website were organized into categories, including “Fraud,” “Drugs & Chemicals,” “Counterfeit Items,” “Weapons,” and “Carded Items.” Shortly before AlphaBay was shut down by law enforcement, the website contained thousands of sales listings for illegal products, including approximately 4,488 sales listings for stolen personally identifying information; 28,800 sales listings for stolen online account information; 6,008 sales listings for stolen credit card information; 3,586 sales listings for computer hacking tools, such as botnets and exploit kits; and 257,533 sales listings for illegal drugs, including cocaine, heroin, and a variety of opioids. The sales of stolen personally identifying information, online account information, and credit card information all provided fertile grounds for access device fraud to flourish on the Dark Web. Aside from product listings, AlphaBay provided message board forums where users could securely discuss their criminal activities and receive support from Wheeler and other AlphaBay staffers.
On or about May 25, 2015, Wheeler began working as a public relations specialist for AlphaBay. Wheeler’s duties included moderating the AlphaBay subreddit on the internet website reddit.com, moderating the AlphaBay message board forums, mediating sales disputes among AlphaBay users, promoting AlphaBay on the internet, and providing non-technical assistance to AlphaBay users. Throughout his participation in the conspiracy, Wheeler advised the public on how to access AlphaBay and encouraged the public to use the website. In return for his work, Wheeler received a salary in Bitcoin. Wheeler’s work with AlphaBay continued until early July 2017, when the FBI and its international law enforcement partners shut down the website.
Ronald L. Wheeler III, a/k/a Trappy, 25, of Streamwood, Illinois was sentenced to three years, 10 months in prison to be followed by three years of supervised release on July 31, 2018. He was also ordered to forfeit approximately $140,000 in cash and Bitcoin. Wheeler was convicted on March 8, 2018, after he pleaded guilty.