Owners of $430 million dark web marketplace charged in Chicago

Two men have been charged in federal court in Chicago with operating a dark web marketplace called "Empire Market" – which allegedly facilitated over $430 million in illegal transactions worldwide.

Prosecutors said Thomas Pavey, 38, of Ormond Beach, Florida., and Raheim Hamilton, 28, of Suffolk, Virginia, owned and operated Empire Market from 2018 to 2020. They face charges of drug trafficking, computer fraud, access device fraud, counterfeiting, and money laundering.

The indictment states that Pavey, who went by the name "Dopenugget," and Hamilton, known as "Sydney" and "Zero Angel," previously sold counterfeit U.S. currency on AlphaBay — another dark web marketplace shut down in 2017.

The duo allegedly launched Empire Market on Feb. 1, 2018, allowing thousands of vendors to sell controlled substances, such as heroin, methamphetamine, cocaine and LSD, as well as counterfeit currency and stolen credit card information.

Transactions were completed using cryptocurrency, and buyers could rate their purchases, according to the indictment. Buyers were also able to browse the marketplace by category, including "Fraud," "Drugs & Chemicals," "Counterfeit Items," and "Software & Malware." They accessed the site through special anonymizing software.

Federal law enforcement seized $75 million in cryptocurrency, along with cash and precious metals during the investigation.

Pavey and Hamilton are currently in custody, and their arraignments in Chicago federal court have not yet been scheduled. Each faces a maximum sentence of life in prison.