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DIGGING DEEPER: DEA disrupts Darknet

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TUCSON (KVOA) - The Darknet a place where you can buy anything from drugs to guns to exotic animals.

Drug dealers hide behind the anonymity of the internet thinking they can't be detected.  

The buyers desperate to feed their addiction, especially during the pandemic, will go to any length to get their drugs.

However, the Darknet is a dangerous place and the Drug Enforcement Administration is committed to shutting those sites down.

Nine kilos of fentanyl are enough to kill everyone in Tucson and the surrounding areas. That's what DEA Agent Bill Czopek told the Digging Deeper team. "It is one of the leading reasons why we're having an opioid crisis in this country."

Agent Czopek said fentanyl is being used as an additive with other drugs such as heroin, cocaine and meth. "500,000 pills can be made from one kilogram of fentanyl."

Using a blender, and a pill press he showed the crude but profitable method of manufacturing the counterfeit drugs. He explained once the filler is blended with the fentanyl " That powder would go into the machine and in this case simply hand crank it out and pills would begin to drop."

The machine Czopek had would produce 2,000 pills an hour. However, the drug cartels use a much more sophisticated machine that cranks out 20,000 to 30,000 pills an hour.

Depending on the drug the mold and dyes can be changed.  Then it's ready to be sold on the Darknet.

Bret Mann said, "I paid $200.00 for 60 pills."

He purchased Xanax on the Darknet.

"Being an addict, you'll go to any lengths to feed your addiction, the dark web is helping those people."

All it takes is a computer, internet, and money. Agent Czopek added,  "In five to ten minutes I can order drugs and send a payment digitally.  Drugs will be shipped to my front door within a few days."

The problem,  the pills are often counterfeit. Mann said, "You might get one that doesn't do anything, you might get one that causes you to overdose and die."All it takes is just a few granules of fentanyl.

Mann told the Digging Deeper Team he saw someone overdose after ingesting a counterfeit pill laced with fentanyl. "It caused him to overdose and not wake up turn real blue, it's a scary thing to witness."

Six months ago, Mann said he was homeless, hungry, and sick.  He overdosed and that scared him enough to seek help at the Amity Circle Tree Ranch where he is getting his life together. "It feels good. I'm doing the right thing and people are aware of it and want to help."

So as complex and challenging as the Darknet can be, DEA has a message." You sell drugs online; DEA and our partners will find you and we will arrest you." Mann added, "I think it's going to save a lot of people."

This fall, international law enforcement targeted opioid traffickers on the Darknet that resulted in over 170 arrests worldwide. Over $6.5 million dollars was seized including weapons and drugs. In August of 2019, 28-year-old Kevin Dean McCoy was sentenced to 15 years in prison.DEA said he used the Darknet to distribute heroin.

Lupita Murillo

Lupita Murillo is an investigative reporter. She is part of the Digging Deeper team that uncovers important issues focusing on crime that affects the community.

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