Audrey Strauss, the Acting United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York, Phillip R. Bartlett, the Inspector in Charge of the New York Division of the United States Postal Inspection Service (“USPIS”), and Peter C. Fitzhugh, the Special Agent-in-Charge of the New York Field Office of Homeland Security Investigations (“HSI”), announced that CHUKWUEMEKA OKPARAEKE, a/k/a “Emeka,” pled guilty to distributing U-47700, a controlled substance analogue of AH-7921; importing 100 grams and more of acryl fentanyl, a controlled substance analogue of fentanyl, from Hong Kong; and making false statements to prosecutors and investigators regarding the proceeds of his offenses. OKPARAEKE pled guilty today in White Plains federal court before U.S. Magistrate Judge Paul E. Davison. The case is assigned to U.S. District Judge Nelson S. Román.
Through his guilty plea, OKPARAEKE admitted that in November 2016, he sold U-47700 to an individual (the “Victim”), who died from an overdose after using the drug. OKPARAEKE further admitted that his narcotics offenses involved 9.044 kilograms of acryl fentanyl, 6.957 kilograms of U-47700, 1.159 kilograms of furanyl fentanyl, an analogue of fentanyl, and 12 grams of 4-ANPP. As part of his guilty plea, OKPARAEKE agreed to forfeit 680.60963624 bitcoins – approximately $7,298,000 – in proceeds generated by his illicit narcotics sales.
Acting U.S. Attorney Audrey Strauss said: “As he admitted today, Chukwuemeka Okparaeke peddled highly addictive, and in one case lethal, opioids over the darknet. He also lied to agents and prosecutors about the whereabouts of more than $7 million in bitcoin proceeds from his illegal sales. Now Okparaeke will forfeit those illicit proceeds, and he awaits sentencing for his crimes.”
Postal Inspector in Charge Phillip R. Bartlett said: “This case represents the tragic impact of fentanyl and other illicit narcotics in this country. Mr. Okparaeke used the anonymity of the darknet to peddle his narcotics believing he would be shielded from arrest and prosecution. Postal Inspectors want to remind criminals there is no place you can hide when you use the U.S. Mail to facilitate your illegal activity. We will spare no resource to find you, arrest you, and bring you to justice for your illegal deeds.”
HSI Special Agent-in-Charge Peter C. Fitzhugh said: “This investigation identified Okparaeke as a darknet marketplace vendor responsible for the sale of highly addictive and deadly narcotics which resulted in a fatal overdose. The anonymity most seek by using the darknet did not shield Okparaeke, who is now facing the consequences of his actions. One overdose, one life taken, is one too many. To those who try to hide on the darknet while profiting off ruined lives, you will be found, you will be arrested, and you will be prosecuted.”
According to the allegations in the Superseding Information, Complaint, other court filings, and statements made during public court proceedings:
From at least July 2016 through March 2017, OKPARAEKE imported kilogram-quantities of fentanyl analogues, including acryl fentanyl and furanyl fentanyl, and other synthetic opioids, including U-47700, from Hong Kong and China into the United States. To transact with customers and coordinate his narcotics sales, OKPARAEKE used a darknet website known as AlphaBay Market (“AlphaBay”), accessible only through a special software program that allows users to mask their identities and anonymize their internet traffic. 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. OKPARAEKE paid a commission on each of his narcotics sales to the administrators of AlphaBay. In total, OKPARAEKE’s narcotics trafficking generated more than $7 million in illicit proceeds.
In November 2016, OKPARAEKE sold three grams of U-47700 to the Victim, an 18-year-old living in Vancouver, Washington, in an AlphaBay transaction. The Victim used the drugs purchased from OKPARAEKE and died in a U-47700 overdose on November 10, 2016. Prior to his death, the Victim researched Fentmaster online. On November 6, 2016, the Victim sent a friend a text message saying that he had purchased drugs from Fentmaster. The Victim subsequently left a review on OKPARAEKE’s AlphaBay vendor page confirming that he had received the drugs.
OKPARAEKE – who attended medical school before he began selling synthetic opioids on AlphaBay – used extensive measures to conceal his identity, including software to encrypt his internet traffic and communications sent from his cellphone. 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 (“CBP”), in conjunction with HSI and USPIS, intercepted several packages containing kilogram quantities of fentanyl analogues that OKPARAEKE had imported from Hong Kong. Subsequently, in March 2017, law enforcement searched a drug premises OKPARAEKE maintained in Kearny, New Jersey. During the search, law enforcement seized more than 10 kilograms of U-47700, acryl fentanyl, and furanyl fentanyl, as well as a quantity of 4-ANPP and approximately 82 mailing envelopes containing smaller amounts of those substances that OKPARAEKE had packaged for distribution to his customers.
On September 15, 2020, OKPARAEKE met with representatives of the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York and USPIS. During that meeting, OKPARAEKE falsely represented that approximately 680 bitcoins – more than $7 million – generated by his narcotics sales on AlphaBay were not in his possession and control. In addition, OKPARAEKE falsely claimed that a third party had stolen the bitcoin from him through hacking and other unauthorized access to OKPARAEKE’s electronic accounts. OKPARAEKE subsequently surrendered the 680 bitcoins to USPIS and agreed to forfeit those proceeds as part of his plea agreement.
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OKPARAEKE, 31, of Middletown, New York, pled guilty to one count of distributing U-47700, a controlled substance analogue of AH-7921, which carries a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison; one count of importing 100 grams and more of acryl fentanyl, a controlled substance analogue of fentanyl, which carries a mandatory minimum sentence of 10 years in prison and a maximum sentence of life imprisonment; and one count of making false statements in a matter within the executive branch of the Government of the United States, which carries a maximum sentence of five years in prison. The maximum potential sentences in this case are prescribed by Congress and are provided here for informational purposes only, as any sentencing of the defendant will be determined by the judge.
OKPARAEKE is scheduled to be sentenced by Judge Román on December 17, 2020, at 10:30 a.m.
Ms. Strauss praised the outstanding efforts of USPIS, HSI, CBP, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the Fairfax County, Virginia, Police Department, the Virginia Office of the Attorney General, the Middletown Police Department, and the Vancouver, Washington, Police Department for their investigative work and ongoing support and assistance with the case.
The case is being prosecuted by the Office’s White Plains Division. Assistant United States Attorneys Gillian Grossman, Olga Zverovich, and Sagar Ravi are in charge of the prosecution.