A young man with big ambitions for the darknet world has reached his dead end. James Winstanley, a 22-year old man from Wellington, New Zealand is a highly talented and skillful computer science student at the Victoria University. He used his unusual genius to get himself in trouble. Together with two of his friends, Winstanley created a website on the darknet through which he could trade drugs. Interested users could log into the sites by the use of designated networks.
In June this year, he went further to use Facebook for the same purpose. Through a page he named Vic Underworld, he invited subscribers to make use of this illegal trade. Most of these users were students from the University. Nevertheless, the University has claimed lack of knowledge on who runs the site. The founders later named the site NZ Underworld.
Site users could access the site through the TOR (The Onion Router) gateway. At the time of use, it boasted of up to one hundred and fifty users, with at least three members joining daily. Every person interested in subscribing to the site had to go through serious vetting. This was to ensure that none of them was an undercover police.
Using many other false names, Winstanley posted several times on the page. This gave the impression that the page was in constant use by subscribers. The site boasted of selling painkillers, party drugs and even fake scripts from doctors.
To increase anonymity, users could only trade using bitcoin. The suspect claimed that they earned money from the various transactions. Out of one transaction, the young founders received one and a half percent. They conversely refused to state how much money they had made since the site is currently defunct.
The young man chose a wrong time to be creative. It was during the same period that the police were on a hunt for traders of unlawful drugs. The New Zealand police and the Dutch National Prosecution Service had joined forces to curb this crime. They were able to arrest James Winstanley, together with six other suspects, through an investigation called Operation Hyperion. During the operation, the police confiscated amounts of LSD, cannabis, ecstasy, cocaine, heroin and methamphetamine.
In October last year, the police paid keen attention to any packages sent through the post office. They then tracked the package delivery from the seller to the buyer. The police sent many alerts all over the country as warnings of arrest. Kelly Knight, who is the group manager in charge of national high-tech crime group, spearheaded these announcements. “The internet is within our reach. None of the sites used is secret to us. We can view every transaction and hunt down any suspected illegal package. We constantly track sites such as Ramp,” he said.
A judge from a court in the district of Wellington handled the case. Still, by Thursday, the court had not received any hard evidence against the suspect. The police could not confirm whether Winstanley had sold any drugs. Even after a thorough search of his apartment, they still did not find any drugs.
The court, however, gave a statement to the public. Winstanley had in fact formerly used prescribed drugs. Though it was not clear whether he suffered from autism, it was evident that Winstanley was not socially normal.
The suspect’s lawyer came to his defense. He pleaded with the court, assuring the judge that Winstanley’s creation was not to cause harm. Rather than use the site to sell drugs, he simply wanted to buy for personal use. He had no intentions to use the Facebook page for any illegal trade. Since the suspect had no other drug source, he used his computer knowledge to meet his need.
The courts were not going to be lenient. They termed Winstanley as rebellious, with continual resilience to continue in wrongdoing. When Facebook brought down the suspect’s first page, Winstanley went ahead and created two more pages. The students even went ahead to advertise their TOR address on the page. They also tagged the police and dared the authorities to catch them if they could. New Zealand has recently stepped up its fight against drug trafficking. It employs sophisticated scientific methods to track down drugs and the cartels involved.
Winstanley, on the other hand, says that he did not want to provoke the law. His only plea is that the country should have more lenient laws on drugs. The also wanted the site to bridge the demand to supply gap that they claim faces the country.
The Wellington District Court charged Winstanley with threes accounts of trying to sell cannabis, codeine and MDMA between the months of May to October in the year 2015. The suspect pleaded guilty to all the charges. The court sentenced Winstanley to supervision for half a year and ordered to community detention for four months.