Three men who traded drugs illegally in the Dark Web, fentanyl and carfentanyl, have been prosecuted by UK law enforcement and sentenced to a total of 43 years and six months between them.
The UK's National Crime Agency (NCA) said that Jake Levene, 22, Lee Childs, 45, and Mandy Christopher Lowther, 21, were recently sentenced at Leeds Crown Court on charges of exporting and supplying class A drugs.
Fentanyl and carfentanyl are opioid-based drugs, the first of which is used for anesthesia and as a painkiller while the second is used only in veterinary medicine.
Both are restricted but are also manufactured illegally, and may be cut with other drugs such as heroin or cocaine. In pure forms, fentanyl can be up to 100 times as strong as morphine, and carfentanyl may be up to 10,000 times stronger.
The trio pleaded guilty to the charges.
According to law enforcement, the Leeds-based criminal group mixed these drugs with bulking agents and then sold these concoctions online. A store under the name "UKBargins" was then set up in the Dark Web to sell these products.
The Dark Web is an area of the Internet which cannot be reached with standard search engines such as Google or Bing. Instead, visitors must use the Tor network to access .onion website addresses.
In total, 2,853 products were sold to 443 customers across the world, with 172 based in the United Kingdom.
NCA says that the three men turned over £163,474 between December 2016 and April 2017. Police officers raided their facility in April together with West Yorkshire Police.
In total, 2.6kg of carfentanyl was seized, which the NCA says equates to "millions of lethal doses," alongside 440 grams of pure carfentanyl, the "single largest seizure of the drug to date in Europe."
A laptop found in the drug den contained information relating to the UKBargins shop once hosted on AlphaBay, a popular Dark Web marketplace closed down by authorities in 2017.
In this shop, the owners said:
"I will not give any information about fentanyl or its analogues as the customer should already have researched these chemicals before even contemplating using them as they are extremely dangerous & lethal in the wrong hands."
Levene and Lowther were sentenced to 16.5 years each behind bars. Childs, who was responsible for packing and posting, was given 10.5 years.
Once the trio is released, they are being held to conditions including the prohibition of selling and possessing equipment related to drug manufacture; the possession of virtual currency accounts, and the trade in chemicals under a Serious Crime Prevention Order.
If breached, each individual may face an additional five years in prison.
"Childs, Lowther, and Levene knew these drugs were life-threatening yet they continued to sell them for their own financial gain," said NCA Senior Investigating Officer Graham Roberts. "The lengthy jail terms handed down to them today are a reflection on their dangerous and careless actions."
Last week, the NCA said the organization has seized property worth £1.7 million from nine men and four women connected to an organized crime group involved in drug supply in the United Kingdom.