Two Vancouver residents and two Oregon residents were indicted Wednesday in U.S. District Court in Portland in connection with a global conspiracy in which more than $1.2 billion in illegal drugs were sold online to buyers around the world, according to the Justice Department.
Jason W. Hagen, 39, and Chelsea L. Reder, 23, both of Vancouver, and Richard E. Webster, 45, and Donald R. Bechen, 39, both of Washington County, Ore., allegedly participated in the conspiracy by selling methamphetamine internationally for the digital currency, called bitcoins, on a website dubbed the "Silk Road."
They are charged with conspiracy to distribute methamphetamine over the Internet, conspiracy to export methamphetamine to other countries and 15 counts of international and domestic money laundering.
Before its seizure in October, the "Silk Road" provided a virtual marketplace for distributors and suppliers of illegal drugs, firearms and fraudulent identification cards to peddle their products on the Internet through an encrypted network called "The Onion Router."
Hagen, Webster, Bechen and Reder participated in the marketplace by selling more than 17 pounds of methamphetamine on the website, the justice department said. The sales involved about 3,169 transactions, the justice department said.
Cmdr. Mike Cooke, who heads the Clark-Vancouver Regional Drug Task Force, said that amount of methamphetamine is worth about $136,000 locally. He added that the Clark-Vancouver Regional Drug Task Force assisted with the local investigation.
The four local suspects allegedly used commercial carriers to deliver the methamphetamine to various buyers throughout the United States, Australia, Canada, the Czech Republic, Italy and the United Kingdom.
They received payment from bitcoins and converted them to U.S. currency using electronic money transfer systems, such as PayPal and Western Union, the justice department said.
Their trial is scheduled for Feb. 18 in front of U.S. District Judge Robert E. Jones.
Hagen, Webster and Bechen will be held in federal custody pending trial; Reder was released under conditions of pretrial supervision.
Since about March 2011, the "Silk Road" has garnered nearly 1 million registered users who conducted a total of more than $1.2 billion in sales, the justice department said.
Special agents with Homeland Security Investigations in Baltimore, Md., received information about the online activity in September 2011 and began a multi-agency investigation.
FBI agents arrested the administrator of the website in October 2013, and the website was seized. The name of the administrator was not released Wednesday in a press release by the Justice Department. A spokesperson with the agency didn't return a phone call inquiring about the administrator's identity.