A former tanning shop owner has been jailed for importing cocaine after ordering it in bulk from the dark web.
Wayne Withers said he could shift 10kg a month and asked for drugs to be delivered to his salon in Blackpool. But Withers, of Red Bank Road, Blackpool, only managed to import four grams of the class A drug before FBI agents in America intercepted the website and shut down the operation.
He has now been jailed for two years and eight months after pleading guilty to importation of drugs.
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Mark Friend, prosecuting, told Preston Crown Court that in July 2017, USA authorities shut down a buying and selling site Alphabay, which was operating on the dark web. Investigations revealed that in May of that year, Withers was in communication with another user discussing the importation of cocaine from Brazil.
Under the username ‘Seasiders’, Withers asked a user known as ‘Machismo’ how much it would cost for a kilo of cocaine. He was given a price of $22,000 and began discussing the logistics of the sale. Withers made a ‘test purchase’ of 4g and on May 25 confirmed he had received the goods – although they smelled of soap.
He said: “Just have to get better at packing it. I can do 10kg a month but need the best of the best. I’m willing to do 1kg next week. See how it is. I’m in it for the long haul.”
Withers said if the deal was successful he would return to buy 1.5kg and then 2kg. On June 5, 2017, he placed an order with Machismo for a kilo of cocaine.
However on June 20, Machismo messaged Withers to say he could not ship the order from Brazil. He said: “I don’t know what happened. First time it’s happened. I will send as a gift next time.”
He instructed Withers to dispute the order through Alphabay in order to resolve payment issues and agreed to take payment with Bitcoin. On June 30 Machismo said the order had been seized again, but said: “I’ll try again with a new stealth method.”
On July 2, Withers messaged Machismo and another user called ‘Big Muscles’. He said: “What you mean mate? It’s not my fault. You need to give me a shipping tracking code from the site. I’ve paid you and you’ve not given me a shipping tracking code.
“I’ve paid you $6k. You keep saying they keep seizing your packages but that’s nothing to do with me. You still don’t give me a shipping number so it’s still in your hands. I’m not here to mess around or rob anyone.”
He asked for the order to be delivered to his shop in Red Bank Road, under the name of G Wilcox, the court heard. Shortly after the exchange of messages, USA authorities intercepted the operation and there was no evidence the order was ever shipped.
On March 9, 2021, officers from Lancashire Police searched Withers’ home in Sandyfields, Preston. They seized two encrypted iPhones and three laptops which were installed with TOR browsers to enable access to the dark web. Withers claimed he had only accessed the dark web twice, and information gleaned from his electronic devices was limited, due to the encryted nature of them.
Defending, Anthony Parkinson said it was important to note that although the messages referred to large volumes of drugs, Withers only successfully imported 4g. He said at the time of the offence the defendant was using cocaine but stopped around a year ago.
He added the offence was committed in 2017 and Withers has not committed any offences since.
Recorder Michelle Brown said the importation of drugs is a serious offence and must be met with an immediate prison sentence. She said: “The dark web requires specialist software to access it and it is used because it is difficult, if not impossible, to track down its use by those attempting to hide their criminality. There are a number of illegal selling sites that use cryptocurrency because it is difficult to trace and does not necessarily show up on bank statements.”
She said it was clear Withers was buying on his own behalf and had close links to the source of the drugs in South America. She jailed the defendant for two years and eight months.
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