Tal Prihar, an Israeli citizen extradited to the U.S., pleaded guilty in federal court Wednesday to conspiracy to commit money laundering for his role in running the defunct “DeepDotWeb” website.
Prihar faces up to 20 years in prison after prosecutors said he and a co-defendant, also from Israel, earned millions of dollars by referring visitors of their site to illegal online marketplaces.
Before closing in 2019, DeepDotWeb, or DDW, contained a host of information about different marketplaces that exist on the so-called darknet, a part of the internet difficult for novices to navigate.
In addition to articles and reviews, DDW offered visitors direct links to various darknet marketplaces where drugs, guns and other contraband were bought and sold using cryptocurrency such as Bitcoin.
For referring DDW visitors to certain sites, prosecutors said Prihar and his co-defendant, Michael Phan, received kickbacks that were paid to them in Bitcoin valued at close to $8.4 million.
Prihar, 37, has agreed to forfeit $8,414,173, the U.S. Department of Justice said in a news release announcing his guilty plea. His sentencing hearing is currently scheduled for Aug. 2.
Mr. Phan, 34, was arrested in Israel on May 6, 2019, the same day French officials apprehended Prihar in Paris. The Justice Department offered no update on the status of his case in its announcement.
DDW operated for six years prior to being shuttered by the FBI and had posted referral links to some of the biggest darknet bazaars known to authorities, including the AlphaBay and Hansa Markets.
Both men were charged in U.S. District Court for the Western District of Pennsylvania in Pittsburg, where FBI agents had been investigating the website before ultimately seizing it.
An indictment unsealed following the arrests said the FBI used referral codes posted on DDW to buy drugs including heroin and cocaine, compromised credit cards and malware from other marketplaces.
“Prihar profited as a byproduct from other people’s dangerous transactions and today’s guilty plea sends a message to other cyber actors across the globe who think the dark web is a safe haven,” said acting Special Agent in Charge Carlton Peeples of the FBI’s Pittsburgh field office. “The FBI works with our local, state, federal and international partners regularly to dismantle illicit websites and go after those responsible for them.