On Wednesday, the US Department of Justice (DoJ) said that Tal Prihar, a 37-year-old Israeli citizen living in Brazil, has admitted to operating DDW alongside co-owner Michael Phan since 2013.
DDW, which was seized by law enforcement in 2019, was a portal for news and events surrounding the dark web. However, according to US prosecutors, the co-owners of the domain also received kickbacks for connecting buyers and sellers of illegal products.
The DoJ claims that Phan and Prihar earned themselves over $8 million for providing direct links to marketplaces selling products including firearms, heroin, fentanyl, malware, and stolen data record dumps. The referral links included listings for AlphaBay, Agora, Abraxas, Dream, and Valhalla.
These websites are not indexed on the clear web or by typical search engines. DDW was one of a number of resources that provided lists of active underground marketplaces, together with their hidden link addresses that were accessible via the Tor network.
To hide the kickbacks, which totaled roughly 8,155 Bitcoins (BTC), Prihar laundered the funds through cryptocurrency wallets and bank accounts registered in the name of shell companies.
Prihar has agreed to forfeit $8,414,173. The former website administrator has pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit money laundering and he faces a maximum penalty of up to 20 years behind bars.
Sentencing is due to occur on August 2. Phan faces the same charge.
"Tal Prihar served as a broker for illegal Darknet marketplaces -- helping such marketplaces find customers for fentanyl, firearms, and other dangerous contraband -- and profited from the illegal business that ensued," commented Acting Assistant Attorney General Nicholas McQuaid of the DoJ's Criminal Division. "This prosecution, seizure of the broker website, and forfeiture send a clear message that we are not only prosecuting the administrators of Darknet marketplaces offering illegal goods and services, but we will also bring to justice those that aim to facilitate and profit from them."
In September, US law enforcement, together with Europol and other agencies, launched a coordinated takedown of illegal dark web vendors leading to 179 arrests. Dubbed "DisrupTor," the operation also included the seizure of over $6.5 million and approximately 500kg in drugs such as fentanyl, heroin, cocaine, and ecstasy.