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Sept. 22, 2021

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Narcotics dealer gets 15 years in federal prison

Vancouver teen died after overdosing on opioid from his website

By , Columbian staff writer

An online narcotics dealer was sentenced to 15 years in federal prison for distributing fentanyl analogues and synthetic opioids nationwide, including to an 18-year-old Vancouver resident who died of an overdose after using the drugs.

Chukwuemeka Okparaeke, also known as “Emeka,” previously pleaded guilty in a White Plains, N.Y., federal court to distributing an analogue, something similar to the actual drug, of the synthetic opioid AH-7921; importing 100 grams of a fentanyl analogue from Hong Kong; and making false statements to law enforcement and prosecutors about the money he made from selling the substances, according to a news release from the U.S. Attorney’s Office Southern District of New York.

He was also sentenced to five years of supervised release and ordered to forfeit the money he made from the drug trafficking, which includes $105,177.30 and about $7 million worth of Bitcoins, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office.

As part of his plea, Okparaeke admitted that he sold a synthetic opioid to the Vancouver teenager who overdosed, according to the news release.

According to affidavits and statements made in court cited by prosecutors, Okparaeke, of Middletown, N.Y., imported kilograms of the drugs from Hong Kong and cities in China into the U.S. The transactions are believed to have taken place from July 2016 through March 2017.

He used a darknet website named AlphaBay Market, or AlphaBay, for his transactions. The site is only accessible by using special computer software that allows users to hide their identities and make their internet activity anonymous, prosecutors said.

“Under the AlphaBay vendor name ‘Fentmaster,’ Okparaeke engaged in more than 7,000 sales of synthetic opioids, which he shipped to customers throughout the United States using the U.S. Postal Service,” the U.S. Attorney’s Office said.

Okparaeke paid a commission on each of his narcotics sales to the administrators of the website. In total, Okparaeke garnered more than $7 million in illicit proceeds, according to prosecutors.

He sold 3 grams of the synthetic opioid analogue U-47700 to the Vancouver teen in November 2016. The teen used the drugs and died of an overdose on Nov. 10, 2016.

Authorities say that prior to his death, the teenager researched Okparaeke’s online handle. On Nov. 6, 2016, he texted a friend saying he’d purchased drugs from “Fentmaster.” Then, he wrote a review on Okparaeke’s AlphaBay vendor page, confirming he’d received his purchase.

Okparaeke, who reportedly attended medical school before he began selling synthetic opioids online, “used extensive measures to conceal his identity, including software to encrypt his internet traffic and communications sent from his cellphone,” prosecutors said. “Using alter egos, he boasted online about his exploits as a darknet drug trafficker, offered advice to other drug dealers, and published a short story describing his criminal activities and his strategies for evading law enforcement.”

In January 2017, Customs and Border Protection agents, along with other federal agencies, intercepted several packages containing fentanyl analogues that were being shipped to Okparaeke. Two months later, officers searched a drug house “maintained” by Okparaeke in New Jersey. During the search, law enforcement seized more than 10 kilograms of drugs and 82 envelopes containing smaller quantities of the drugs that he prepared to mail to customers.

Okparaeke met with federal authorities in September, and he lied about the roughly 680 Bitcoins he obtained through his sales not being in his possession or control. He further claimed that a third party had stolen the Bitcoins through hacking and other unauthorized entry into his accounts, prosecutors said.