By Dan Whitcomb
LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Eight men charged with running an elaborate online narcotics market that sold drugs to 3,000 people in the United States and 34 other countries have been arrested following a two-year investigation dubbed "Operation Adam Bomb," prosecutors said on Monday.
The secret ring known as "The Farmer's Market" operated through the TOR computer network, which allows users to communicate anonymously, according to a federal grand jury indictment unsealed on Monday in Los Angeles.
The online drug market provided order forms and customer service, guaranteeing delivery in exchange for a commission and accepting payment through PayPal, Western Union and other means, the indictment charges.
Authorities said the defendants were accused of running one of the most sophisticated drug marketplaces on the Internet and said the prosecution represented a first of its kind.
"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 a written release.
"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," Grey said.
Marc Willems, 42, who is accused of creating and running "The Farmer's Market," was taken into custody at his home in Lelystad, Netherlands, by Dutch authorities, U.S. Attorneys spokeswoman Gymeka Williams said.
Law enforcement officials in Bogota arrested 42-year-old Michael Evron, a U.S. citizen living in Argentina who allegedly oversaw technical and customer support for the online marketplace, as he was attempting to leave Colombia, Williams said.
Jonathan Colbeck, 51; Brian Colbeck, 47; Ryan Rawls, 31; Jonathan Dugan, 27; George Matzek, 20; and Charles Bigras, 37, were arrested at their respective homes in Iowa, Michigan, Georgia, New York, New Jersey and Florida.
All eight defendants were charged with federal drug trafficking and money laundering charges and prosecutors had filed extradition papers to return Willems and Evron back to the United States for trial, Williams said.
Each faces a maximum sentence of life in prison if convicted.
According to the 66-page indictment, "The Farmer's Market" allowed independent sources to advertise illegal drugs - including LSD, ecstasy, fentanyl, mescaline ketamine, DMT and high-end marijuana - for sale to the public.
The deals were allegedly handled through the online marketplace, which processed more than 5,200 orders for controlled substances valued at more than $1 million between January 2007 and October 2009, the indictment charges.
The law enforcement operation was called "Adam Bomb" because the original name of the marketplace was Adamflowers, according to the indictment.
According to its website, TOR offers free software and an open network that allows users to defend against "network surveillance that threatens personal freedom and privacy."
(Reporting by Dan Whitcomb; Editing by Lisa Shumaker)