An accused dark web drug kingpin known as the “OxyMonster” has agreed to plead guilty in a deal that could send him to prison for more than 20 years, according to reports.
Gal Vallerius, who federal prosecutors say was a controlling administrator for Dream Market, a dark web black market for sellers and buyers of illicit goods, is set to plead guilty on June 12 in Miami federal court to conspiring to distribute drugs and money laundering, according to the Miami Herald.
The 39-year-old Frenchman faces a 20-year sentence, according to the newspaper. He had faced life imprisonment.
The Dream Market, Vallerius’s alleged domain, is part of the “dark web,” an area of the internet not indexed by search engines and only accessible via special internet browsers that effectively “hide” users’ unique internet protocol (“IP”) addresses, giving two-way anonymity.
Robert Anderson, a former FBI executive assistant director, calls the dark web “the bad peoples’ web,” where people utilize virtual anonymity to create online marketplaces dedicated to various illicit activities, including the purchase and sale of drugs.
Dark web marketplaces connect buyers and sellers in exchange for a percentage of any transaction.
Perhaps the best known dark web black market was Silk Road, which was shuttered by the FBI in 2013 with the arrest of its operator, Ross Ulbricht. Known as “Dread Pirate Roberts,” Ulbricht was convicted two years later of narcotics trafficking, money laundering and related offenses. He was sentenced to life in prison.
Dream Market was one of several dark net marketplaces that sought to replace Silk Road, and is the oldest dark net market still in operation, according to DarkNetMarkets.com, a dark net news website. The marketplace “operates under strict security guidelines,” the website says, and hasn't been breached by hackers. Besides Vallerius, none of its alleged operators have been identified by law enforcement.
Vallerius was tripped up by his distinctive long, red beard, which he came to the United States in 2017 to show off at the World Beard and Mustache Championships in Austin, Texas, according to the Guardian.
Unbeknownst to Vallerius, an investigation into Dream Market was already underway, and he had been identified as “Senior Moderator” based on his Bitcoin transactions, according to his criminal complaint, obtained by Oxygen.com.
“His profile listed 60 prior sales and five star reviews from buyers,” the complaint alleges. “In addition, his profile stated that he ships from France to anywhere in Europe.”
When Vallerius got off his flight from Paris in Atlanta, federal agents were waiting. They gave him a special “border search,” where police can search personal effects, including electronics, at will, without a warrant, according to Custom and Border Protection police policy.
That search yielded a laptop computer, a smartphone and a tablet, according to court documents. When federal agents found the items, they asked Vallerius for their passwords, and Vallerius provided them. Once inside Vallerius's laptop, they confirmed his identity as OxyMonster, according to the complaint.
They also found special browsing software for the dark web, his login credential for Dream Market and $500,000 worth of BitCoin, according to the criminal complaint. At that point, police arrested him, and extradited him to Miami to stand trial.
Vallerius has asserted that the border search was illegal, and that the evidence against him should be thrown out. A federal court held a hearing on the legality of the search in April, and ultimately denied his request that the evidence be excluded.
Vallerius has now decided to plead guilty, according to the Herald's report.
His lawyer, Anthony Natale, did not respond to a voicemail seeking comment. A spokesperson for the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Miami also declined comment.