The final player in a Northampton cartel that used a dark web marketplace to sell millions of pounds worth of Class A drugs has been jailed.
Filip Hmelnicenko was sentenced on Friday (March 5) at Northampton Crown Court to six years and nine months after pleading guilty to the conspiracy.
He is the last remaining member of four-man drugs operation worth £2.7million who were thwarted by police in July 2019.
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His accomplices, Vladislavs Cvirkovics, 28, Denis Potapenko, 28 and Edgars Pirants, 32, were locked up in December for a combined total of 34 years.The gang operated from Northampton and customers would buy drugs from them on the dark web using cryptocurrency. The gang would then distribute the drugs through the Royal Mail postal service to customers both nationally and internationally.
Northampton Crown Court heard on Friday how the operation was organised with encrypted spreadsheets, hard drive cleaners and payments through untraceable cryptocurrency.
Northamptonshire Police tore the curtain off the operation when they raided a storage unit in Northampton in June 2019.
Inside, they uncovered £2.7million of Class A drugs including 3.7 kg of cocaine, 50kg of MDMA tablets and Crystal MDMA, along with a haul of amphetamine, cannabis and ketamine.
The Force’s Serious and Organised Crime Team conducted an investigation into the gang after police discovered £2.7 million of Class A and B drugs in a storage facility situated in Northampton in June 2019. The drugs included 3.7kg of cocaine, 50kg of MDMA tablets and Crystal MDMA, amphetamine, cannabis and ketamine.
The team of detectives were able to link this facility to Hmelnicenko and Cvirkovics who were promptly arrested in Oxford Street, Northampton.
Specialist examination of their devices allowed detectives to discover that they were marketing and selling the drugs on the dark web through a platform they named ‘MartinLutherUK’ on the Empire Market. Detectives also uncovered previous customer orders, address lists, images of drugs and virtual wallets containing cryptocurrency.
DS Keith Morson from Northamptonshire Police’s Serious & Organised Crime Team, said in December: “I am extremely proud of this ground-breaking investigation which shows - in no uncertain terms - the capability of this force to successfully investigate a very sophisticated, 21st century, Metropolitan-level crime."
“This is our first ever successful prosecution of a dark web drug supply and seizure of cryptocurrency, demonstrating that Northamptonshire Police can punch well above its weight in our ability to tackle this type of complex and hidden criminal network.
“The officer who led this investigation, DC Gareth Askew, has worked tirelessly to bring this challenging case to a successful conclusion, and I would also like to pay tribute to other departments across the Force, including Cybercrime, Digital, Financial and Forensic teams, who helped us bring the investigation to a point where all four defendants had no choice but to plead guilty.”
Detectives also analysed CCTV footage which showed Hmelnicenko carrying large quantities of jiffy bags to many post offices dotted around Northampton and using the Royal Mail to distribute the drug orders via the postal network.
Evidence then led police to an industrial premises in Moulton Park where they found a large cannabis grow - valued at £400,000 - linked to both men.
The imprisonment of Hmelnicenko and Cvirkovics, however, did not stop the dark web shop from re-opening again and continuing to sell and distribute drugs.
The reactivation led to the arrest of Potapenko in Hood Street, Northampton in February 2020 after he was found to have digital devices that linked him to the website and the importation of Class A and B drugs. His fingerprints and DNA were, furthermore, found on packaging of the £2.7 million drugs from the storage facility and cannabis factory in Moulton Park.
Spreadsheets found on Potapenko’s computer identified Pirants as being involved in the operation and he was arrested in March 2020 in Cotton End, Northampton.
Officers found and seized Class A drugs, jiffy bags, Royal Mail special delivery labels, 144,000 MDMA tablets and a pill press after they searched Pirant’s bedroom and an outbuilding he was associated with.
Cvirkovics was handed concurrent sentences of ten years for conspiring to supply Class A drugs, six years for conspiring to supply Class B drugs and one year for the possession of a stun gun.
Potapenko will serve concurrent sentences of six years and eight months for conspiring to supply Class A drugs, three years for conspiring to supply Class B drugs and 10 months for the possession of CS spray.
Pirants was sentenced to seven years in prison for conspiring to supply Class A drugs.