Operation Onymous: The Laws and Legal Complaint that Darkened Silk Road 2.0, Pink Meth, Et al.

Through Operation Onymous, a sting of the deep web was coordinated internationally by the DOJ, FBI, ICE Homeland Security Investigations, Europol, and Eurojust.  Notorious revenge porn site, Pink Meth was among those shuttered. (h/t Mary Anne Franks)  According to Europol’s Nov 7, press release, $1m in Bitcoin was seized along with $180E in drugs, gold, chase, and silver.  At least 27 Tor sites fell — including Pink Meth and dark market Silk Road2.0.  Seventeen arrests were made. 410 “hidden services” blocked.

According to the November 7 complaint filed at my local US District Court for the Southern District of New York, the District Attorney is seeking forfeiture pursuant to 18 U.S.C. Section 981(a)(1)(A), commonly known as the “money laundering” statute and hopes to draw in additional parties under conspiracy statutes (Section 1956(h)).  Those who merely engaged in unlawful transactions could face ten years in prison under Section 1957.  That’s nothing compared to the punishments breathing down the necks of the actual mastermind site operators.  The seizure of the websites was preliminary relief under 18 U.S.C. Section 983(j).  Section 983 contains general rules for civil forfeiture proceedings.   The language for that law is below.  The closures, pursuant to temporary restraining orders will last for 14 days unless good cause is shown.  Considering that most/all the targeted websites were run anonymously or pseudonymously, it shall remain to be seen whether the operators will step forward to oppose the restraining orders.  Unlikely, given that identifying themselves as the site operators could expose them to criminal penalties.  Will some hire lawyers to defend their interests and argue to preserve their client’s anonymity?


The caption to the complaint provides a list of the targets:

The law that shuttered the sites:

18 U.S. Code 983 General Rules for Civil forfeiture proceedings

(j) Restraining Orders; Protective Orders.— 

(1) Upon application of the United States, the court may enter a restraining order or injunction, require the execution of satisfactory performance bonds, create receiverships, appoint conservators, custodians, appraisers, accountants, or trustees, or take any other action to seize, secure, maintain, or preserve the availability of property subject to civil forfeiture—

(A) upon the filing of a civil forfeiture complaint alleging that the property with respect to which the order is sought is subject to civil forfeiture; or

(B) prior to the filing of such a complaint, if, after notice to persons appearing to have an interest in the property and opportunity for a hearing, the court determines that—

(i) there is a substantial probability that the United States will prevail on the issue of forfeiture and that failure to enter the order will result in the property being destroyed, removed from the jurisdiction of the court, or otherwise made unavailable for forfeiture; and

(ii) the need to preserve the availability of the property through the entry of the requested order outweighs the hardship on any party against whom the order is to be entered.

(2) An order entered pursuant to paragraph (1)(B) shall be effective for not more than 90 days, unless extended by the court for good cause shown, or unless a complaint described in paragraph (1)(A) has been filed.

(3) A temporary restraining order under this subsection may be entered upon application of the United States without notice or opportunity for a hearing when a complaint has not yet been filed with respect to the property, if the United States demonstrates that there is probable cause to believe that the property with respect to which the order is sought is subject to civil forfeiture and that provision of notice will jeopardize the availability of the property for forfeiture. Such a temporary order shall expire not more than 14 days after the date on which it is entered, unless extended for good cause shown or unless the party against whom it is entered consents to an extension for a longer period. A hearing requested concerning an order entered under this paragraph shall be held at the earliest possible time and prior to the expiration of the temporary order.

(4) The court may receive and consider, at a hearing held pursuant to this subsection, evidence and information that would be inadmissible under the Federal Rules of Evidence.

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