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Owners of "Empire Market" Dark Web Store Worth $430 Million Charged

Two suspects face life in prison for illegal drugs, goods and services marketplace

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The Fall of Empire Market, a Dark Web Marketplace

The United States Department of Justice has announced that two suspects have been charged with owning and operating Empire Market, a dark web marketplace. Empire Market provided access to buying, selling, and exchanging illegal goods and services like drugs, counterfeit items, malware, stolen enterprise data, and other services.

The DOJ has charged Thomas Pavey, aka “Dopenugget,” and Raheim Hamilton, aka “Sydney” and “Zero Angel,” with owning and operating Empire Market from 2018 to 2020. Pavey, 38, resided in Ormond Beach, Florida, and Hamilton, 28, in Suffolk, Virginia.

Two suspects could now face life in prison for the illegal drugs, goods, and services marketplace.

Pavey and Hamilton also previously sold counterfeit U.S. currency on AlphaBay, a dark web marketplace that preceded Empire Market. AlphaBay was shut down in 2017.

In just two years, the pair conducted over four million transactions worth $430 million, according to an indictment in the U.S. District Court in Chicago.

The indictment charges include drug trafficking, computer fraud, access device fraud, counterfeiting, and money laundering.

Empire Market was accessible only on the dark web with a .onion address. Multiple vendors sold various drugs and stolen credit card information. At its peak, over 500 new listings were posted per day, and over 52,000 products were for sale across 4,500 vendors.

For only $750, vendors could register to sell anything customers would be willing to pay for.

An example drug listing of Adderall and Vyvanse on Empire Market while the dark web store was still in operation.

An example drug listing of Adderall and Vyvanse on Empire Market while the dark web store was still in operation. (source: webz.io)

Payments accepted on Empire Market included Bitcoin, Litecoin, and Monero cryptocurrencies.

The platform became a hub for learning how to conduct money laundering and attempting to conceal cryptocurrency transactions by “tumbling” it through services like Tornado Cash.

Tornado Cash is used by crypto scammers and dark web users to shuffle cryptocurrency funds across a broad range of cryptocurrencies on the Ethereum blockchain.

Lifetime sentences await Empire Market owners

Empire Market was taken down in January 2020 after a coordinated effort by law enforcement agencies in the United States and abroad. Authorities seized and took the marketplace's servers offline, as well as over $75 million in cryptocurrency, cash, and precious metals.

If Pavey and Hamilton are found guilty and convicted on all counts, they will earn a lifetime sentence each.

If history tells us anything, AlphaBay, Genesis Market, and Empire Market may be gone, but clones inevitably rise. Notorious hacker forum BreachForums remains in operation after repeated international efforts to take down the platform.

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Until next time…

Rob Waters
The Breach Report + Cybersecurity Careers Blog

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