When the French national Gal Vallerius flew into Atlanta's Hartsfield-Jackson Airport en route to an international beard competition, he was certain that his online alter ego as the infamous and anonymous "OxyMonster" in the drug trafficking Dark Web was safe, and that he would be considered just another European tourist and routinely passed through immigration.
What was waiting for him, though, was a sealed indictment charging him with Conspiracy to Distribute Controlled Substances with Intent to Distribute, for his secret identity as a major vendor on Dream Market, an eBay-like narcotics supermarket operating on the anonymous Tor network, had been uncovered by the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), using a social network platform.
The DEA had targeted a major narcotics vendor and Dream Market drug forum administrator as OxyMonster, with major drug shipments into the United States, but were unable to name him. One of the individuals receiving payments through electronic wallets was identified as a French national, Gal Vallerius. Could he be the elusive OxyMonster ?
Applying a social media platform to the problem, investigators located Instagram and Twitter accounts of Vallerius, and "compared the writing style of "OxyMonster" on Dream Market forum while in Senior Moderator role to the writing style of Vallerius in his public Instagram and Twitter accounts. Agents discovered many similarities in the use of words and punctuation* ...."
Armed with that evidence, an Indictment was issued, and Vallerius was arrested when he arrived in the United States on August 31, 2017. Information recovered from his seized laptop computer confirmed his identity as OxyMonster.
While Social media platforms are generally employed to identify previously unknown relationships, or those that are several degrees of separation from a targeted individual, they may also be used to acquire additional information from the target which were previously impossible to detect, on a near real-time basis. They are an invaluable investigative tool that identifies key connections.
The defendant has been transferred to the Southern District of Florida, where the case was brought; he faces a potential life in prison if convicted. His laptop held $500,000 in Bitcoin value, and the US Attorney is seeking forfeiture of the same. Only a redacted version of the Indictment has been publicly released, indicating that there may be additional defendants not yet in Federal custody.
As new criminal cases that demonstrate the successful sue of social media platforms by investigators appear, we shall make that information available to our readers on this blog.
* Affidavit of DEA S/A Austin D. Love at 13-14. United States vs. Gal Vallerius a/k/a/ "OxyMonster," Case No.: 17-cr-20648-RNS (SD FL).
Chronicles of Monte Friesner - Senior Financial Crime Analyst
Contributed by Kenneth Rijock - Senior Financial Crime Consultant