AlphaBay Moderator Sentenced to 11 Years in Prison

Cryptocurrency Fraud , Cybercrime , Forensics

Bryan Herrell Settled Disputes for the Darknet Marketplace

AlphaBay Moderator Sentenced to 11 Years in Prison

The former moderator of the now-defunct AlphaBay darknet marketplace has been sentenced to 11 years in prison after pleading guilty to a federal racketeering charge, according to the U.S. Department of Justice.

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As AlphaBay moderator, Bryan Connor Herrell, 26, of Aurora, Colorado helped settle disputes between sellers and buyers of illegal items, including guns, drugs, stolen identity information and credit card numbers, prosecutors say. In January, he pleaded guilty to one charge of conspiracy to engage in a racketeer-influenced corrupt organization.

In a hand-written note sent to U.S. District Court Judge Dale A. Drozd before his sentencing this week, Herrell described himself as a greedy, lazy, anti-social loner who has turned a new leaf while in jail and is now trying to become a productive person.

“As a teenager, I became significantly isolated, which manifested itself into the charges I have now. At the time of my arrest, I was 23, obese and anti-social. I was not contributing to the world at all,” Herrell wrote to the judge, according to court documents.

Herrell’s attorney, Jeffrey T. Hammerschmidt, tells Information Security Media Group that his client considered the sentence to be fair, given he faced a maximum of more than 30 years in prison.

AlphaBay, launched December 2014, was considered to be the largest darknet marketplace before it was shut down by the FBI and Europol in 2017, when it had about 369,000 listings, 350,000 active buyer accounts and more than 9,000 vendors, the Justice Department says (see: Darknet Marketplace AlphaBay Offline Following Raids). Herrell moderated about 20,000 disputes, according to prosecutors.

The Shutdown

For the shutdown operation, known as “Operation Bayonet,” Thailand police raided the house of AlphaBay’s alleged founder, Canadian citizen Alexandre Cazes. He was detained by police in Thailand and was later found dead in his jail cell.

The investigation of AlphaBay and its former administrators continued with the help of an unencrypted laptop found in Cazes’ possession at the time of his arrest. The information in the computer enabled law enforcement to identify those involved in AlphaBay, according to the Justice Department (see: One Simple Error Led to AlphaBay Admin’s Downfall).

In January 2018, Californian David Ryan Burchard, 40, was sentenced to serve 80 months in prison, while Emil Vladimirov Babadjov, 33, who has both Bulgarian and U.S. nationality, was sentenced to serve 70 months in prison for crimes associated with AlphaBay.

Other Darknet Marketplaces

In addition to AlphaBay, several other darknet marketplaces have ceased operations.

For example, Empire, one of the world’s largest darknet marketplaces, recently closed up shop in what appears to be an “exit scam,” which included one or more administrators taking digital currency that was being held for customers in escrow accounts (see: Bye-Bye Bitcoins: Empire Darknet Market ‘Exit Scams’).

In May 2019, two darknet markets, Wall Street Market and Silkkitie, were shuttered by law enforcement officials (see: Darknet Disruption: ‘Wall Street Market’ Closed for Business).

Also in May 2019, the FBI seized The DeepDotWeb portal that acted as a guide to darknet marketplaces and arrested its alleged administrators as part of an international operation (see: FBI Shutters DeepDotWeb Portal; Suspected Admins Arrested).

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