A website owner who received millions of dollars in kickbacks for connecting internet users to Darknet marketplaces has pleaded guilty in a US court to conspiracy to commit money laundering.
Thirty-seven-year-old Brazil resident Tal Prihar owned and operated DeepDotWeb along with his co-defendant and fellow Israeli national, 34-year-old Michael Phan.
Established in 2013, the site not only provided general information about the Darknet, but also featured links to specific sites where users could buy illegal firearms, malware, stolen financial data, illicit drugs, and other contraband.
Every time a user clicked on one of the links, which cannot be found via regular search engines, Prihar and Phan received a payment. In total, hosting the links illegally earned the pair approximately $8.4m, according to court documents.
“Tal Prihar today acknowledged his leadership role in operating a web site that served as a gateway to numerous dark web marketplaces selling fentanyl, heroin, firearms, hacking tools and other illegal goods,” said Acting US. Attorney Stephen Kaufman for the Western District of Pennsylvania in a statement released March 31.
“Mr. Prihar and his codefendant extracted a fee from each customer routed to these illegal sites, profiting in the millions of dollars.”
These illegal kickback payments were paid into Prihar’s DeepDotWeb Bitcoin wallet. To conceal their nature and source, he transferred the money to bank accounts he controlled in the names of shell companies and to other Bitcoin accounts.
Prihar agreed to forfeit $8,414,173 he received in illegal kickbacks when federal authorities seized DeepDotWeb in April 2019.
On March 31, Prihar pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit money laundering. When he is sentenced on August 2, Prihar faces a maximum prison term of 20 years.
“For six years, DeepDotWeb was a gateway to facilitate the illegal purchase of items to include dangerous drugs, weapons, and malicious software,” said Acting Special Agent in Charge Carlton Peeples of the FBI’s Pittsburgh Field Office.
“Prihar profited as a byproduct from other people’s dangerous transactions and today’s guilty plea sends a message to other cyber actors across the globe who think the dark web is a safe haven. The FBI works with our local, state, federal and international partners regularly to dismantle illicit websites and go after those responsible for them.”