WASHINGTON — Counterdrug agents in the U.S. and Europe arrested 150 people and seized more than a quarter ton of illicit drugs in an international operation aimed at disrupting sales on a portion of the internet known as the Darknet, authorities announced Tuesday.
The sweep netted more than $31 million in cash and cryptocurrency in 14 U.S. states and seven European countries. A total of 65 people were arrested in the U.S., and 85 were arrested in Europe.
They were accused of illegally selling fentanyl, oxycodone, amphetamine, cocaine and ecstasy. Among the U.S. targets were the operators of two Darknet accounts in Florida and Rhode Island that advertised and sold fentanyl pills throughout the country, the Justice Department said.
Deputy Attorney General Lisa Monaco said the operation was aimed at “those who seek of the shadows the Internet to peddle killer pills worldwide.” Darknet drug sales have exceeded pre-pandemic levels, she said, because more people are turning to it for buying drugs.
The overseas arrests were carried out in Bulgaria, France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Switzerland and the United Kingdom. Authorities in Australia cooperated in the massive operation, the U.S. said.
Investigators were aided by leads gathered during the takedown earlier this year of DarkMarket, which was then the world’s largest illegal marketplace on the web. German authorities seized the site, which yielded a trove of new intelligence, they said.
Anne Milgram, who leads the Drug Enforcement Administration, said the illegally sold drugs are contributing to an alarming trend in the U.S. “These are the drugs that are driving the overdose crisis in America, with 250 people dying each day,” she said.
DEA last month issued a rare Public Safety Alert warning of the spread of fake prescription pills, made to look like such drugs as Oxycontin, Xanax, and Adderall, that actually contain fentanyl and methamphetamine. “They are killing unsuspecting Americans at an unprecedented rate,” the agency said.
Pete Williams is an NBC News correspondent who covers the Justice Department and the Supreme Court, based in Washington.