Fishers teen admits buying drugs on 'Dark Net,' hidden online market

Mom turned son, drugs over to police

FISHERS, Ind. - A Fishers teen has been arrested after police intercepted two drug shipments that he admitted to buying on a growing online marketplace, found on a mysterious corner of the Internet known as the "dark net."

The 14-year-old boy's mother turned him in to police after the drugs arrived at her home with the day's mail.

The mother cried as she told the Call 6 Investigators why she took the extreme step of hauling the boy and the drugs to the Fishers police station.

"My main concern was just to make sure I was doing everything I could to try to save his life, and I knew I couldn't do it on my own," she said under the condition that her family's identity be protected.

"I was mad at him, I think, disappointed for breaking my trust," she said as she wiped away tears.

When police questioned the teen, he admitted to buying the drugs on a growing anonymous online portal known as "Silk Road – The anonymous marketplace."

A recent Forbes article pegged sales at $22 million annually on the Silk Road marketplace, with more than 550 sellers offering everything from drugs to guns and bombs.

The Fishers mother said she became suspicious when her son kept anxiously checking the mailbox.  

"He's like, 'I'm just going to check the mail, I'm just going to check the mail.' You know, he doesn't typically want to check the mail all the time," she said.

She waited for the next day's mail and grabbed an arriving Priority Mail package addressed to her son. When she opened it, she found a DVD cartoon movie box that heightened her suspicions even more. She bent the box open and said that a small sealed package dropped out in her lap.

"Inside of the sealed package was a baggie, zip lock baggie with clear, white crystals.

"I had no idea what it was. I knew it was a problem. He pleaded with me every which way to Sunday to dispose of it, throw it in the trash, flush it down the toilet, mix it with water, pour it in the mulch," said the mother.

Instead, she loaded the drugs and her child into the car to turn them in.

In court papers, Fishers police write that they tested the substance and confirmed it was Ecstasy, a form of MDMA, or methamphetamine.

Under questioning, the boy said he had purchased those drugs, as well as a second shipment, from a seller on the Silk Road marketplace.  Police then traced the second shipment and intercepted it on the neighborhood mail truck that was set to deliver once again to the family's home.  The second shipment also contained drugs, police wrote.

"I was angry at the means with which he got his hands on these drugs," said the mother.

Fishers police declined to answer questions about the case, so the mother said she wonders whether police are trying to track down the actual seller. The return address for each drug shipment was listed in Portland, Ore., but a slightly different male name was listed as the sender of each package.

"Whoever provided a child with the drug is anonymous," the mother said. "It’s not like there was someone knocking at my door, it's not like he was out in the neighborhood, coming home acting differently. It was delivered straight to him in the mailbox."

The Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department reported a similar case of drugs arriving at an Indianapolis home. Narcotics Squad Capt. Robert Holt said a package of drugs was intercepted by police last fall and the recipient admitted having bought it on the Silk Road marketplace.

"It's out there. It's available," said Holt, adding that Ecstasy and other odd recreational drugs are the most common, such as the so-called "date rape drug," as opposed to more commonly available drugs like marijuana and cocaine.

The "dark net" is also known as "dot-Onion," which refers to a domain that does not contain typical traceable dot-com websites. Instructional videos are posted on YouTube and elsewhere, telling people how to download a program that allows access to an anonymous technology called Tor. A recent GQ article traced its roots back to military intelligence operations trying to keep their communications from being intercepted.

Once the Tor program is downloaded on a computer, it causes bits of data to be drawn from thousands of computers worldwide in order to establish a marketplace or web portal such as Silk Road. Since the site is not tied to a single computer or server like a dot-com web site, it creates serious challenges for police.

Indiana State Police Cyber Crimes Unit  Lt. Chuck Cohen said, "What we find is there are online marketplaces on the dot-Onion or dark net or elsewhere, where they essentially act as auction houses for people to trade in illegal drugs and other kinds of illegal activities.

"Someone that is wanting to sell illegal drugs can use this to come in contact with someone who wants to

buy illegal drugs. These are marketplaces like any other," he said.

He said that, while tracing the communications or the actual transaction may be difficult in Silk Road drug cases, criminals can still be caught.

"The fact that police are aware of that should indicate to criminals, in addition to being aware of it, we're actually conducting investigations in these environments.

"What I would tell criminals that are engaging in the criminal trade craft online is, you may not have been arrested yet, but your time is coming. We are doing these investigations and we will find you and we will arrest you, and you will be prosecuted," said Cohen.

"Old traditional police work that has been tried and true for generations, following the actual shipments, these are actual physical items, this is real drugs moving from point A to point B, and in many cases those are leads for the investigation," he said.

A drug dealer's February arrest in New Zealand was referred to as the first ever criminal conviction involving a Silk Road transaction. Federal police said they were able to gain information about the dealer from his Silk Road profile, so they warned others that the marketplace is not entirely anonymous.

Some online articles and blog posts refer to the Silk Road Marketplace as the eBay or the Amazon for illegal goods.

Silk Road and other locations on the dark net or "dark web" often use a currency known as "Bit Coins ."

While its origin revolves around anonymously paying for goods on the web, CNN reported last month that more than 100 businesses, including a New York City bar, are now accepting Bit Coins for payment.

Bit Coins are touted as a commodity like gold or silver, so their value fluctuates based on how many people are buying or selling them. However, instead of being based on an actual currency like gold or U.S. dollars, the value is based only on that online investment activity.

"Looking back, I realize that I had helped to fund his Bit Coin account," said the mother in Fishers.

While some parents have bought their kids Bit Coins to purchase online video games or other seemingly harmless products, the mother said her 14-year-old convinced her to buy him Bit Coins as an investment.  She said he told her that he planned to buy while the price was low and then sell when the value was much higher and she said she believed it was a legitimate investment strategy.

While attending drug rehabilitation therapy with her son, she said another drug user at the session mentioned that he was familiar with using Bit Coins to buy drugs.

"I just don't think that anyone really knows about what it is, and what having those Bit Coins can bring into your home, can bring into your life, and how easily it can destroy something," said the mother.

The Bit Coin website proclaims that it has no central management structure and is comprised solely of its investors. The website also warns users that it is "pseudo-anonymous" and therefore possible for payments and transactions to be traced in some circumstances.

While the various dark net sites offer everything from trained hitmen to bombs and machine guns, Lt. Cohen said many are simply aimed at scamming people.

"You have to decide, do you trust someone that is advertising that they are going to be a hitman? Do you trust that person advertising that they are going to send you illegal drugs? And, really, you're not going to go to the police and say, 'I tried to buy drugs, I tried to hire a hit man and they stole my money.' That's not something that happens, and criminals know that that's an easy victim pool," Cohen said.

However, a Carnegie Mellon research paper from July 2012 found a surprisingly high feedback rating for many sellers of drugs and other goods on Silk Road. As with eBay, feedback scores indicate how satisfied past buyers were with their given transactions, so a high feedback score for an online drug pusher would indicate that customers were happy with what they have received.

In the Fishers case, police reported that the 14-year-old was arrested and booked into the Hamilton County Juvenile Detention Center.  His mother said the boy was charged with attempted possession of a controlled substance.

The mother speaks to her son frequently in phone calls from the detention center and she said he blames her for getting him into legal trouble.

"It's been a journey that I wish I didn't have to take. I wish I could fix everything and I can't," she said.

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