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July 18, 2023Phoenix, AZ, United StatesNarcotics, Financial Crimes

HSI Arizona investigation sends 3 darknet fentanyl vendors to prison for more than 20 years

PHOENIX, Ariz. — On June 14, a judge sentenced Veronica Dittman, 28, of Tempe, to five years in prison for her role in operating multiple darknet pages selling illicit drugs with two previously sentenced co-conspirators. The sentence follows a multiagency investigation involving Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) Arizona.

“Illicit dark web marketplaces represent a significant threat to public health, economic and national security,” said HSI Arizona Special Agent in Charge Scott Brown. “These sentencings should resonate with people looking to use the darknet to peddle deadly drugs — HSI and our partner agencies are not slowing down the pace in which we are investigating those who are using the dark web to purchase deadly drugs such as fentanyl.”

The darknet, also called the dark web, is a portion of the internet that hosts darknet markets, or hidden commercial websites. A darknet market operates as a black market, selling or brokering transactions involving legal products, as well as illegal items such as drugs, weapons, counterfeit currency, stolen credit card details, forged documents, unlicensed pharmaceuticals, steroids and other illicit goods.

According to court documents, from approximately January 2022 through August 2022, Dittman and co-conspirators Rick Schiffner, 31, and Devin Langer, 30, both based in Phoenix, ran the darknet monikers “TrustedTraphouse,” “GoldenTrails,” “PopcornPlug,” and others across at least a dozen different darknet markets. On these markets, the co-conspirators advertised various controlled substances, including crystal methamphetamine, cocaine, heroin and fentanyl-laced counterfeit pills that the conspirators advertised as oxycodone.

During the course of the conspiracy, the conspirators made over 1,300 sales of controlled substances over the darknet using these accounts, distributing at least 800 grams of counterfeit pills containing fentanyl, 500 grams of methamphetamine, 16 grams of heroin and 7 grams of cocaine. The conspirators described the pressed pills containing fentanyl on one marketplace as “Not normal OxyCodone,” informing potential customers “These are MUCH stronger than pharmaceutical OxyCodone … These were NOT made by a pharmacy.” They also warned customers to “be careful.”

Dittman worked primarily with Schiffner to process orders over the darknet and then package and ship them. Dittman also operated her own vendor accounts on the darknet using the monikers “VirtualPeddler” and “Darkette.” By the time of her arrest, she had made at least 74 sales of controlled substances through those accounts, the majority of which were fentanyl.

Schiffner was sentenced on April 14, 2023, to 150 months’ imprisonment and Langer was sentenced on April 17, 2023, to 84 months’ imprisonment.

HSI, the FBI’s Criminal Division in Washington, the U.S. Postal Inspection Service’s Inspector in Charge of its Washington Division, the FDA Office of Criminal Investigations’ Metro Washington field office, the FBI’s Phoenix and Las Vegas field offices, the USPIS Phoenix Division, the Pinal County Sheriff’s Office, the Arizona Department of Public Safety and the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department investigated the case.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Heather Call with the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Virginia prosecuted the case.

HSI is the principal investigative arm of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS), responsible for investigating transnational crime and threats, specifically those criminal organizations that exploit the global infrastructure through which international trade, travel, and finance move. HSI’s workforce of more than 8,700 employees consists of more than 6,000 special agents assigned to 237 cities throughout the United States, and 93 overseas locations in 56 countries. HSI’s international presence represents DHS’s largest investigative law enforcement presence abroad and one of the largest international footprints in U.S. law enforcement.

Updated: 07/25/2023