Four men have been sentenced to a combined total of over 34 years in prison after their £2.7 million dark web drugs operation was thwarted by police.
Vladislavs Cvirkovics, 28, Filip Hmelnicenko, 31, Denis Potapenko, 28 and Edgars Pirants, 32, all pleaded guilty to conspiring to supply Class A drugs at court hearings earlier this year.
They operated from Northampton and customers would buy drugs from them on the dark web using cryptocurrency. The gang would then distribute the drugs through the Royal Mail postal service to customers both nationally and internationally.
The Force’s Serious and Organised Crime Team conducted an investigation into the gang after police discovered £2.7 million of Class A and B drugs in a storage facility situated in Northampton in June 2019. The drugs included 3.7kg of cocaine, 50kg of MDMA tablets and Crystal MDMA, amphetamine, cannabis and ketamine.
The team of detectives were able to link this facility to Hmelnicenko and Cvirkovics who were promptly arrested in Oxford Street, Northampton.
Specialist examination of their devices allowed detectives to discover that they were marketing and selling the drugs on the dark web through a platform they named ‘MartinLutherUK’ on the Empire Market. Detectives also uncovered previous customer orders, address lists, images of drugs and virtual wallets containing cryptocurrency.
DS Keith Morson from Northamptonshire Police’s Serious & Organised Crime Team, said: “I am extremely proud of this ground-breaking investigation which shows - in no uncertain terms - the capability of this force to successfully investigate a very sophisticated, 21st century, Metropolitan-level crime.
“This is our first ever successful prosecution of a dark web drug supply and seizure of cryptocurrency, demonstrating that Northamptonshire Police can punch well above its weight in our ability to tackle this type of complex and hidden criminal network.
“The officer who led this investigation, DC Gareth Askew, has worked tirelessly to bring this challenging case to a successful conclusion, and I would also like to pay tribute to other departments across the Force, including Cybercrime, Digital, Financial and Forensic teams, who helped us bring the investigation to a point where all four defendants had no choice but to plead guilty.”
Detectives also analysed CCTV footage which showed Hmelnicenko carrying large quantities of jiffy bags to many post offices dotted around Northampton and using the Royal Mail to distribute the drug orders via the postal network.
Evidence then led police to an industrial premises in Moulton Park where they found a large cannabis grow - valued at £400,000 - linked to both men.
The imprisonment of Hmelnicenko and Cvirkovics, however, did not stop the dark web shop from re-opening again and continuing to sell and distribute drugs.
The reactivation led to the arrest of Potapenko in Hood Street, Northampton in February 2020 after he was found to have digital devices that linked him to the website and the importation of Class A and B drugs. His fingerprints and DNA were, furthermore, found on packaging of the £2.7 million drugs from the storage facility and cannabis factory in Moulton Park.
Spreadsheets found on Potapenko’s computer identified Pirants as being involved in the operation and he was arrested in March 2020 in Cotton End, Northampton.
Officers found and seized Class A drugs, jiffy bags, Royal Mail special delivery labels, 144,000 MDMA tablets and a pill press after they searched Pirant’s bedroom and an outbuilding he was associated with.
Cvirkovics - on Friday (December 18) was handed concurrent sentences of ten years for conspiring to supply Class A drugs, six years for conspiring to supply Class B drugs and one year for the possession of a stun gun.
Potapenko will serve concurrent sentences of six years and eight months for conspiring to supply Class A drugs, three years for conspiring to supply Class B drugs and 10 months for the possession of CS spray.
Pirants was sentenced to seven years in prison for conspiring to supply Class A drugs and Hmelnicenko will be sentenced in early 2021.
Detective Superintendent Lee McBride, Head of Serious & Organised Crime at Northamptonshire Police, said: “This result once again shows Northamptonshire Police’s ability and determination to robustly tackle serious and organised crime occurring in our county and beyond.
“The scale of this drugs activity and the advanced tactics utilised by this criminal group are issues more typically associated with larger metropolitan forces and I am really proud of the team here whose work was second-to-none - meticulous, tenacious and committed, ensuring this gang was taken down.
“This detailed investigation and final outcome shows we are committed and have the technical capability, skills and specialisms to deal with new emerging criminality. We will continue to pursue criminals who try to hide behind technology to commit their crimes, relentlessly.”