Data Breach News

Duo Charged For Operating $430 Million Empire Market

The marketplace sold drugs such as heroin, methamphetamine and cocaine, as well as counterfeit currency and stolen credit card information.

by Mihir Bagwe June 18th, 2024

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Two suspected administrators of a $430 million dark web marketplace are facing the possibility of life sentences in the United States.

The U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) has charged Thomas Pavey, 38, and Raheim Hamilton, 28, with managing “Empire Market” from 2018 to 2020, and for previously selling counterfeit U.S. currency on AlphaBay, a now-defunct criminal market.

The Justice Department alleges that Pavey and Hamilton facilitated nearly four million transactions on Empire Market, which involved drugs such as heroin, methamphetamine and cocaine, as well as counterfeit currency and stolen credit card information.

Pavey is from Ormond Beach, Florida, and Hamilton is from Suffolk, Virginia. The indictment claims that they initially collaborated on selling counterfeit U.S. currency on AlphaBay. After AlphaBay was shut down in a global law enforcement operation in July 2017, Hamilton and Pavey launched Empire Market on February 1, 2018.

Operation of Empire Market

Empire Market featured categories such as Fraud, Drugs & Chemicals, Counterfeit Items, and Software & Malware. The indictment mentions at least one instance where counterfeit U.S. currency was sold to an undercover law enforcement agent on the platform. Transactions were conducted using cryptocurrency and the platform allowed users to even rate the sellers.

Hamilton and Pavey allegedly managed Empire Market until August 22, 2020. During the investigation, the DOJ seized $75 million worth of cryptocurrency, along with cash and precious metals, though it remains unclear if these were obtained through raids on the suspects’ properties.

New Dark Web Marketplaces Spring Up

This case is part of a broader trend where former users of one dark web marketplace create new platforms following law enforcement crackdowns. For example, after AlphaBay’s closure, some vendors moved to create new marketplaces or tools like Skynet Market.

Another notable cybercriminal forum – BreachForums – has encountered issues recently while attempting to resume operations after law enforcement actions.

ShinyHunters – who had reportedly retired after tiring of the pressure of running a notorious hacker forum – returned on June 14 to announce that the forum is now under the ownership of a threat actor operating under the new handle name “Anastasia.”

It’s not yet clear if the move will quell concerns that the forum has been taken over by law enforcement after a May 15 FBI-led takeover, but for now, BreachForums is up and running under its .st domain.

The arrests of Pavey and Hamilton underscore the ongoing efforts by law enforcement to dismantle dark web marketplaces that facilitate illegal activities and highlight the significant legal consequences for those involved in such operations.

Pavey and Hamilton are currently in custody, awaiting arraignment in a federal court in Chicago. They face numerous charges, including drug trafficking, computer fraud, counterfeiting and money laundering. Each charge carries a potential life sentence in federal prison.


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