ATM withdrawals lead to largest counterfeit pill bust in New Jersey

BY Christopher Lang, Correspondent, @topherlang2, MonroeNow, April 18, 2019

Three Central Jersey men were charged with running a counterfeit drug store through the dark web selling hundreds of thousands of pills using cryptocurrency to complete the transactions, according to Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance’s office on Tuesday.

The investigation targeted the dark web screen name “sinmed,” which is an anonymous and encrypted network that requires a special browser for access.

The Manhattan District Attorney’s Office announces a massive counterfeit pill scheme that was operating in New Jersey and New York. Photo Courtesy of Manhattan District Attorney’s Office

The investigation led by the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office seized approximately 500,000 pills, the largest in New Jersey’s history.

The district attorney’s office began investigating the dark web operation in 2017 when it was tipped off to large ATM withdrawals in Manhattan and in New Jersey.

Investigators began tracking Chester Anderson, 44, of South Brunswick, Jarrette Codd, 41, of Jamesburg and Ronald MacCarty, 51, of Jackson, who are allegedly involved in the scheme.

“When our office received reports of suspicious activity at ATMs in New York and New Jersey, our talented investigators followed the money, using our state-of-the-art Cyber Lab to uncover a dark web counterfeit pill seller whose $2.3 million operation spanned the U.S.,” said Vance in a statement on Tuesday. “Not only is this the first time state prosecutors in New York have taken down a dark web storefront, this takedown represents the largest pill seizure in New Jersey’s history. If you are engaging in illicit activity on the dark web, you are on notice: we know how to find you, we know how to put you out of business, and we know how to hold you criminally accountable. If you would like to report crimes committed on the dark web or anywhere else, please call our Cyber hotline at 212-335-9600.”

Authorities allege the operation was run from an Asbury Park-based cell phone repair shop, selling the counterfeit drugs, including Xanax, as well as fentanyl-laced heroin.

The transactions were allegedly made using cryptocurrency to launder $2.3 million by using preloaded debit cards and withdrawing cash from ATMs from clients nationwide, according to the district attorney.

Through the “sinmed” screen name, authorities allege that Anderson ran two dark web storefronts to sell the counterfeit pills and other controlled substances. Codd and MacCarty allegedly helped with manufacturing and acquiring equipment.

Anderson and MacCarty are alleged to have created a shell company called Next Level Research and Development designed to purchase microcrystalline cellulose – the main ingredient used to create pharmaceutical tablets. They also allegedly used MacCarty’s cell phone store, The Wireless Spot, to buy a pill press, powder mixer and “punch dies” used to imprint Xanax labels on alprazolam pills.

Combined the trio face 12 charges including money laundering, conspiracy and criminal sale of controlled substances.

After the 18-month investigation, search warrants and the arrests were handled by police from Asbury Park, Jackson, Jamesburg, Old Bridge, South Brunswick and Vineland on April 3.

“This case involved local, county, state and federal law enforcement working collectively for 18 months to identify, track and dismantle this operation,” South Brunswick Police Chief Raymond Hayducka said in a statement. “The suspects traveled the dark web in the hopes of concealing their crimes but investigators tracked them both online and with physical surveillance to crack this case.”

The Middlesex County Prosecutor’s Office is handling the prosecution of the items seized in New Jersey.