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Bringing in a dark web drug dealer takes collaboration

By Ben Rodgers

HOBART – Multiple law enforcement agencies recently came together to net a big fish in the vast ocean that is the dark web for illegal activities being done in a Hobart home.

Earlier this month, Christopher D. Bania, 26, Hobart, pleaded guilty in federal court to possession of a controlled substance with the intent to deliver.

Christopher Bania

Not an uncommon charge, but Bania was using the dark web and allegedly acting as a middle man for drug deals around the globe.

The dark web is a series of websites with randomly generated web addresses only accessible by special software.

If an iceberg is the tip of the internet, able to be indexed by search engines, the dark web is the belly of the beast, lurking out of sight, but not out of reach for law enforcement, said Randy Bani, chief of the Hobart/Lawrence Police Department.

The effort to apprehend Bania was a collaboration between the local police department, Customs and Border Patrol, the Postal Inspection Service, the Drug Enforcement Agency, the Wisconsin Division of Criminal Investigation, the Brown County Drug Task Force and the Oneida Police Department.

“My understanding is that he was a huge player and his own player, so this is something that he did on his own via the dark web,” Bani said. “He was basically running his own business and doing this illegal activity on his own. Even though there was a huge amount of money concerning this case, he didn’t have a huge number of employees working for him like you normally would when you’re making this kind of money.”

Bania will forfeit approximately $1.5 million worth of cryptocurrency previously seized by the government, along with $85,000 in U.S. currency.

He is accused of selling MDMA, cocaine, DMT, ketamine, LSD, MDA, methaqualone, marijuana and a variety of other controlled substances.

“We haven’t seen anything this big or sophisticated where we’re talking about the dark web and the magnitude of the crime around the world,” Bani said.

Bani said the normal internet is a place for typical services, while the dark web hosts illegal marketplaces that offer drugs, weapons, stolen credit card information, counterfeit passports, even hit men for hire.

“It’s bigger than the current knowledge of law enforcement and we are learning as we go for this case and other cases that are currently pending,” Bani said.

He said there are few details of this case he can release because Bania is still awaiting sentencing.

Randy Bani

“I know that it was being shipped, I know the mail service certainly was involved, and how it was being shipped is probably something I can’t comment on,” Bani said. “Many times it’s shipped via U.S. mail, many times it doesn’t even touch the offender’s hands.”

He did say the DEA is currently trying to track down more of the cryptocurrency used to buy and sell the narcotics in this case, but that’s a difficult road.

“The kids and young adults are getting better every day with computers, but so is law enforcement,” Bani said. “So I think we’re going to see more of these sophisticated crimes.”

For the Hobart/Lawrence Police Department, collaboration on this level is usually something only afforded high-profile cases.

“We’ve certainly had efforts by a lot of different agencies, most times not quite as elaborate as this one was,” Bani said. “But we certainly had our share a few times of high volumes of collaboration, agencies getting together a few times on murder scenes and this certainly was a sophisticated crime that needed expertise outside of Hobart/Lawrence police.”

For law enforcement, the old adage of “If you see something, say something” still can be effective, even when crimes are being committed on the dark web.

“It can be anywhere and it can certainly be in downtown Los Angeles or out in the middle of the country in Hobart, Wisconsin,” Bani said. “It still holds true, if you see something, say something. Most people know their neighbors and who lives where and what they normally do on a daily basis, and if they see something out of the ordinary, we’d certainly like to hear about it, and it may unravel a sophisticated case like this.”

Bani said law enforcement is learning more and more about the dark web and computer crimes every day. But just like a whale deep in the ocean, criminals need to come up for air at some time.

“It’s just a matter of time and eventually, being underground like anything else, you will have to surface and that’s when you’re going to meet law enforcement,” he said.

Bania will be sentenced on Dec. 9, at the federal courthouse in Green Bay.

He faces up to 20 years imprisonment, a $1 million fine, and from three years to a lifetime on supervised release.

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