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Feds shutter online drug market that used Tor to mask activities

Online storefront provided order forms and accepted various forms of payment, including PayPal and Western Union, according to an unsealed indictment.

Eight men have been arrested and charged with distributing more $1 million in LSD, ecstasy, and other narcotics through an online storefront that hid the identities of the service's users.

The online drug market -- known as "The Farmers Market" -- used the Tor Project to allow suppliers to anonymously sell their wares online to buyers in 35 countries, including the United States, according to a federal grand jury indictment unsealed today in Los Angeles. The store provided buyers with order forms, forums, and customer service, and accepted various forms of payment, including PayPal and Western Union, according to the 66-page indictment.

Between January 2007 and October 2009, the sophisticated online marketplace processed more than 5,200 orders worth more than $1 million, authorities said. The ring, which allegedly began operations in March 2006, was busted by a two-year investigation dubbed "Operation Adam Bomb."

"The drug trafficking organization targeted in Operation Adam Bomb was distributing dangerous and addictive drugs to every corner of the world, and trying to hide their activities through the use of advanced anonymizing on-line technology," Briane Grey, U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration acting special agent in charge, said in statement. "Today's action should send a clear message to organizations that are using technology to conduct criminal activity that the DEA and our law enforcement partners will track them down and bring them to justice."

Marc Willems, 42, the accused creator and ringleader of the marketplace, was arrested today by Dutch authorities at his home in Lelystad, Netherlands, authorities said. Michael Evron, also 42, a U.S. citizen living in Argentina who allegedly administered the site with Willems, was arrested Sunday as he was attempting to leave Colombia, authorities said.

The other six defendants are identified as Jonathan Colbeck, 51, of Urbana, Iowa; Brian Colbeck, 47, of Coldwater, Mich.; Ryan Rawls, 31, of Alpharetta, Ga.; Jonathan Dugan, 27, of North Babylon, N.Y.; George Matzek, 20, of Secaucus, N.J.; and Charles Bigras, 37, of Melbourne, Fla.

The 12-count indictment charges all eight men with conspiracy to distribute controlled substances and money laundering. Some of the men also are charged with distributing LSD and taking part in a continuing criminal enterprise. Each faces life in prison if convicted.

The U.S.-based Tor Project, which is devoted to providing a system that lets people use the Internet anonymously, is perhaps best known for helping Iranians sidestep increased Internet restrictions put in place by the country's government. Some 50,000 and 60,000 people reportedly use Tor daily in Iran.