Crime gang sentenced for multi-million-pound dark web drugs operation
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- £2.7million dark web drugs operation
- Cocaine, MDMA, Crystal MDMA, Amphetamine, Cannabis, Ketamine
- Royal Mail used to send drugs to customers
- First ever electronic seizure of cryptocurrency
Four men have been sentenced to a combined total of more than 34 years in prison after their multi-million-pound dark web drugs operation was thwarted by Northamptonshire Police.
Vladislavs Cvirkovics, aged 28, Filip Hmelnicenko, aged 31, Denis Potapenko, aged 28, and Edgars Pirants, aged 32, all pleaded guilty to conspiring to supply Class A drugs at court hearings earlier this year.
The convictions relate to a sophisticated multi-million-pound drugs operation the gang of four operated from Northampton, where customers would buy drugs from them on the dark web using cryptocurrency. The gang would then distribute the drugs via the postal service, both nationally and internationally.
A ground-breaking investigation into the gang was conducted by the Force’s Serious & Organised Crime Team following police identifying and searching a storage facility in Northampton in June 2019. Once inside, they uncovered £2.7million of Class A drugs including 3.7 kg of cocaine, 50kg of MDMA tablets and Crystal MDMA, along with Class B drugs - amphetamine, cannabis and ketamine.
The team of detectives were able to link this facility to Hmelnicenko and Cvirkovics who were arrested in Oxford Street, Northampton, a short time later.
Specialist examination of their devices allowed detectives to identify that the pair were marketing and selling their drugs on the dark web through a platform they had named ‘MartinLutherUK’ on the Empire Market. Previous customer orders, address lists and images of drugs were all uncovered.
Virtual wallets containing cryptocurrency were also discovered with Northamptonshire Police making their first ever electronic seizure of cryptocurrency accrued from the sale of drugs.
Detectives also analysed CCTV which showed Hmelnicenko carrying large amounts of jiffy bags to numerous post offices in Northampton and using the Royal Mail to distribute the drug orders via the postal network.
Evidence also led police to an industrial premises in Moulton Park where they discovered a large and sophisticated cannabis grow linked to both men, with a street value of £400,000.
However, the case wasn’t to end with the imprisonment of Hmelnicenko and Cvirkovics as the dark web shop reopened and once again, became active in the selling and distributing of Class A drugs.
The reactivation was linked to Potapenko who was arrested in February 2020 in Hood Street, Northampton. He was found in possession of digital devices that linked him to the continued operation of the ‘MartinLutherUK’ platform along with communication linking him to the multi-kilo importation of Class A and B drugs. His fingerprints and DNA were also found on packaging of the £2.7million drugs from the storage facility and the cannabis factory in Moulton Park.
Spreadsheets found on his computer identified Pirants as also being involved and he was arrested in March 2020 in Cotton End, Northampton. Upon a search of his bedroom and an associated outbuilding, Class A drugs, jiffy bags, Royal Mail special delivery labels, 144,000 MDMA tablets and a pill press used to manufacture the tablets, were all seized.
On Friday, December 18, Cvirkovics was sentenced to ten years for conspiring to supply Class A drugs. He was also sentenced to six years for conspiring to supply class B drugs and one year for the possession of a stun gun, to be served concurrently.
Potapenko was sentenced to six years and eight months for conspiring to supply Class A drugs. He was also sentenced to three years for conspiring to supply Class B drugs and ten months for the possession of CS spray, to be served concurrently.
Pirants was sentenced to seven years for conspiring to supply Class A drugs.
Hmelnicenko is due to be sentenced in early 2021.
DS Keith Morson from Northamptonshire Police’s Serious & Organised Crime Team, said: “I am extremely proud of this ground-breaking investigation which shows in no uncertain terms the capability of this Force to successfully investigate a very sophisticated, 21st century, Metropolitan-level crime.
“This is our first ever successful prosecution of a dark web drug supply and seizure of cryptocurrency, demonstrating that Northamptonshire Police can punch well above its weight in our ability to tackle this type of complex and hidden criminal network.
“The officer who led this investigation, DC Gareth Askew, has worked tirelessly to bring this challenging case to a successful conclusion, and I would also like to pay tribute to other departments across the Force, including Cybercrime, Digital, Financial and Forensic teams, who helped us bring the investigation to a point where all four defendants had no choice but to plead guilty.”
Detective Superintendent Lee McBride, Head of Serious & Organised Crime at Northamptonshire Police, said: “This result once again shows Northamptonshire Police’s ability and determination to robustly tackle serious and organised crime occurring in our county and beyond.
“The scale of this drugs activity and the advanced tactics utilised by this criminal group are issues more typically associated with larger metropolitan forces and I am really proud of the team here whose work was second-to-none - meticulous, tenacious and committed, ensuring this gang was taken down.
“This detailed investigation and final outcome shows we are committed and have the technical capability, skills and specialisms to deal with new emerging criminality. We will continue to pursue criminals who try to hide behind technology to commit their crimes, relentlessly.”
(Clockwise from top left) Hmelnicenko, Cvirkovics, Potapenko, Pirants
Potapenko at the post office