They advertised Xanax and other benzodiazepines as pills they were selling, then spent the proceeds on Champagne, lunches, and cigars.
On the dark web, a group sold bogus prescription medications for more than £20 million. That helped them maintain the opulent lifestyles they boasted about on social media, including the champagne purchases that cost £1,000.
The thieves made money by selling pharmaceuticals like Xanax and other benzodiazepines, then spent it on champagne brands like Bollinger, Cristal, and Dom Perignon. Marc Ward, 36, Thomas Durden, 36, and Christopher Kirkby, 35, flaunted their outings to upscale eateries and nightclubs in images on their Instagram sites.
Ward shared a photo of himself smoking a cigar on Instagram with the remark, “Living like a gangster!” In June 2017, Kirkby shared a photo of a £1,250 bottle of Crystal Rose from their $1,679 bill at the upscale Mandarin Oriental in Knightsbridge, west London.
Using the alias “HulkedBenzoBoss,” Ward sold the fake pills, some of which left their purchasers dependent on the “very deadly narcotics” if improperly supplied, according to the authorities. The medication is used to treat anxiety and panic disorders when properly administered. Nonetheless, people seeking its tranquil benefits frequently abuse it. Although being extensively used legally in the US, it is only offered in the UK with a prescription.
When several test transactions were made proving Ward was operating under the Darknet vendor moniker “HulkedBenzoBoss,” Pfizer Global Security, who had previously manufactured the medicine, launched an initial investigation. Early January 2017, the police were given the case.
According to investigators, Ward supplied at least 22,843 deals of the phony Xanax tablets and other class C drugs while operating under the alias “HulkedBenzoBoss.” Ward purchased an estimated £2,157,700 worth of Bitcoin from Darknet marketplaces and put it into three major cryptocurrency wallets.
On suspicion of supplying a controlled substance of class C between June 2016 and June 2017 and on suspicion of money laundering, he was detained by police in Havant, Hampshire, in June 2017. According to investigators, evidence found on the site demonstrated his participation in a larger conspiracy involving the manufacture of Xanax imitations.
The crooks closed down their “lab” in a jail in Gravesend, Kent, while Ward was in detention and rebranded as AchlysUK on the Darknet. Under Kirkby’s direction, Charlton Pascal, 30, joined the plot and went to the “lab” to get goods from Durden.
After making many purchases, Pfizer learned Pascal was using the Achlysuk persona to conduct business. On June 20, 2017, a pill press was transported to Shefford, Bedfordshire, and a month later, it was given to John Turner, 49, of Devon.
Four months later, raids were conducted at the homes of Durden, Kirkby, and Pascal, and each was detained on suspicion of taking part in the conspiracy. Durden had cryptocurrency worth £1.3 million seized, while Turner was detained on suspicion of taking part in the plot on February 13.
Ward of Fratton, Portsmouth, was given a five-year sentence at Portsmouth Crown Court on Friday (March 31), and Durden of Dartford, Kent, received a six-year and five-month prison term. Kirkby, a resident of Shefford, Bedford, received a sentence of nine years and six months behind bars.
In December of last year, Ward entered a guilty plea to planning with others to distribute the class C narcotic Alprazolam. At a prior court hearing, he also admitted guilt to a number of other offenses, including offering to sell the class B substances dihydrocodeine and codeine phosphate.
Ward pleaded guilty to two additional crimes, including obtaining and converting illicit property as well as offering to supply the class C narcotics Zopiclone and Diazepam. Pascal admitted to acquiring illicit property, while Durden and Kirkby admitted to a second count each of conspiracy to distribute Alprazolam and converting criminal property.
In December of last year, Pascal of Luton, Bedfordshire, and Turner of Cullompton, Devon, entered a plea of guilty to conspiring to provide the class C narcotic Alprazolam. The specifics of the five-year inquiry were disclosed by Detective Superintendent Neil Cripps, a senior investigative officer at the South East Regional Organized Crime Unit (SEROCU).
Today, he declared: “This organized crime ring worked to establish a ‘company’ to serve as a cover, creating and supplying fake Xanax and other class C drugs on a commercial scale with a street value in excess of £20 million. Their activities had a terrible effect on others who bought the drugs for occasional use and wound up becoming hooked to medications that, if not taken properly and as prescribed by a medical professional, are extremely harmful. Like any illegal substances, there is always a risk to people who use them.
“To guarantee that those accountable for these significant offenses were brought before a court to account for their activities, the South East Regional Organized Crime Unit worked closely with Pfizer Global Security on this case. Following our five-year investigation, people whose only motivation was to make money off of the suffering of others have received heavy prison sentences.
“If you learn that there is a drug supply in your neighborhood, call your local police department at non-emergency number 101. We will continue to disrupt and combat severe and organized crime in all of the South East’s neighborhoods.
At a hearing in May, Pascal and Turner will receive their sentences from the same court. Now under examination is the use of proceeds of crime.