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Hunt for Microsoft engineer’s heroin dealer exposes ‘dark web’

Author: Levi Pulkkinen / Source:

Kevin Campbell’s LinkedIn page reads like an inside joke. Maybe it was once a bit of double entendre, after he gave up on healing but before the overdose.

“Substance Abuse Counselor.”

That’s how Campbell described himself on the sunny side of the internet. On the “dark web,” he was “PTandRnR,” a drug dealer on the Silk Road black market.

Campbell, 48, had dabbled in drug dealing for more than a decade before joining the digital currency-fueled, Tor network-based marketplace. Silk Road saw $214 million in business before it was shuttered in October 2013, and promptly replaced with new illicit markets.

Campbell was a tiny but ultimately pivotal part of Silk Road. The Chicago Army veteran sold and shipped illicit drugs on 161 occasions during his eight months on Silk Road.

One order was Jordan Mettee’s last fix, $300-worth of china white heroin.

The package was delivered by mail at noon on Aug. 29, 2013. About 30 minutes later, Campbell emailed Mettee to see if the order had arrived. Mettee, having injected some of the heroin Campbell sold him, was already dying.

A friend found Mettee slumped over his desk at his Bellevue apartment. Silk Road was still up on the 27-year-old software engineer’s browser.

“Campbell … delivered a fatal dose of heroin to a young, bright Microsoft employee struggling with the same issue that grips an ever-growing number of people in communities across this country,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Steven Masada said in court papers.

Mettee’s death was the lead example offered by federal prosecutors who secured a life sentence for Silk Road founder Ross Ulbrecht. Mettee’s story and those of five others who died from drugs bought on Silk Road were held up as evidence of the costs of the underground marketplace, which made Ulbrecht millions.

On Tuesday, Campbell learned the balance is due for his business on Silk Road — six years in federal prison. Masada had asked that Campbell be sentenced to eight years in federal prison, while Campbell asked that he be spared prison entirely.

Campbell’s case was initiated months before U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions directed prosecutors to pursue “the most serious offenses … that carry the most substantial guidelines sentence, including mandatory-minimum sentences.” Under that scheme, announced in May, Campbell would’ve faced a mandatory 20-year prison term.

Sentencing the Desert Storm combat veteran, U.S. District Judge John Coughenour expressed relief that he wasn’t being asked to hew to Sessions’ hard line. Such an “exercise of discretion,” the Reagan appointee noted, “appears to be more difficult (today) than it was in the days before.”

‘Certainly not new to the game’

In its moment, Silk Road was perhaps the world’s leading black market. It boasted 4,000 vendors and 100,000 customers trading in everything from hacking software to fake passports.

The marketplace was accessed through Tor, a largely secure system that has proven difficult for law enforcement to crack. A Tor browser is used to access parts of the internet known as the “dark web” or “deep web,” where marketplaces like Silk Road exist.

Since Silk Road’s closure, a series of similar markets have opened within the Tor system. Tor network sites have also acted as conduits for large amounts of child abuse imagery, in at least two instances prompting the FBI to seize and run a Tor-accessed child pornography websites agents couldn’t otherwise watch.

Interviewed recently by the BBC about criminal activity there, Tor Project co-creator Roger Dingledine defended the network as vital to protecting personal privacy. He disputed Tor’s significance in the larger criminal landscape.

“I still think that most of the bad stuff on the internet has nothing to do with Tor,” Dingledine told the BBC’s Dave Lee. “Most of the bad stuff on the internet is due to huge criminal organizations. There’s a lot of crime out there.”

Campbell had been dealing drugs off and on since the mid-1990s before he found Silk Road. The market allowed him to extend out of Chicago and reach customers around the United States and beyond, selling to customers in Australia, Israel and Canada.

“We are new to vending on Silk Road but certainly not new to the game,” Campbell said on his online storefront. “We are very excited at the opportunity to establish a new customer base on SR.”

Silk Road reduced the risks associated with drug dealing while creating an illicit online economy that has proven robust.

“It’s far too easy to profit from addiction when it is only someone…

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