Ronald L. Wheeler III, the man responsible for all public relations of the infamous, now out of operations darknet marketplace, Alphabay, has been sentenced to jail for crimes committed dating back to 2015. The conclusion of his case comes more than a year since his activities on the deep web marketplace came to a close in the summer of 2017. At first, most people thought Alphabay had taken an exit scam, which would have been the largest of darknet scams to date. However, it was only a few days later with the arrest and eventual suicide of Alphabay founder Alexandre Cazes, that the shutdown was official.
Presiding Judge Leigh May, handed the 25-year-old a three years and 10 months prison sentence, to be followed by three years of supervised release following time in prison.
The young man from Streamwood, Illinois had been offering public relation services and communications marketing to the Alphabay site since May 2015. He was formally engaged by its owner Cazes who paid him a salary in bitcoin. The prosecution alleged that Wheeler worked with Alexander Cazes aka Alpha02, from May 2015 up to July 2017 before it was seized.
Wheeler by the monikers Trappy and Trappy-Pandora. He also moderated the site’s forum on Reddit. He also posted information about Alphabay updates on other Reddit threads. It was revealed during the trial that he provided information to the platform’s users on how to avoid being detected by the authorities. By and large, he promoted the site and encouraged people to use it.
Wheeler pleaded guilty to his charge of conspiracy to commit access device fraud. On this, he worked with others to steal personal information including passwords, email addresses, and bank account information. They consequently used them to obtain money, goods, and services. But the said crimes were only a tip of the iceberg on what has since been referred to as the ‘largest international criminal marketplace’ in the world.
Was Wheeler a Reformed Man?
These are serious heinous crimes that carry heavier sentences. However, Wheeler walks away with a relatively light sentence for serious cyber crimes committed. While the prosecutor Samir Kaushal recognized that Wheeler was aware of his illegal misdeeds and actively encouraged others to participate in them, the court found compelling reasons that he was remorseful and changed.
As to having admitted to his wrongs and cooperated with the government on the case, there was an immediate recognition of remorse. Since then, he took up a legitimate job, started paying his taxes and worked on his drug addiction. Furthermore, his attorney Philip Turner pleaded with the court that his client had self-esteem issues and had taken the wrong path at resolving them.
Working at Alphabay as a recognized team player and from a point of influence and authority made him feel important. The judge was quite convinced of his repentance, backed up by the steps he had taken to reform. As such, he received the relatively short jail term, but it wasn’t without a cost. The plea bargain had him forgo $ 27,562 in cash found in his possession in his house with an additional 13.97 bitcoins equivalent to over $100,000 today.
By the time Alphabay went down, it had moved more than $1 billion in illegal trades through its platform since its creation in 2014. Its owner, Cazes had similarly acquired close to $23 million in earnings just from percentages alone. The joint efforts by world governments to take down Alphabay also triggered the takedown of Hansa Market.
Perhaps one victim following these stories closely is Ross Ulbricht who received a staggering two life sentences with an additional 40 years for conducting much less the same activities as Wheeler. Ulbricht founded the famous Silk Road marketplace.
In his first appearance in court Wheeler entered a not guilty plea before US Magistrate Judge Janet F. King. He was charged with conspiracy to commit fraud through Alphabay. But with the help of the Assistant US attorneys office, the prosecution was able to get a guilty plea with ‘a very good outcome for [Wheeler at the end of the day].’