Dutch national pleads guilty in US to running online narcotics bazaar

LOS ANGELES (REUTERS) - A Dutch national who created and ran an elaborate online marketplace for the buying and selling of narcotics has pleaded guilty to US drug trafficking and money laundering charges, prosecutors said on Wednesday.

Marc Willems, 45, of the Netherlands pleaded guilty on Tuesday to the two felony counts and admitted to launching "The Farmer's Market", which facilitated the sale of drugs like LSD, ecstasy and marijuana to users in the United States and dozens of other countries, the Los Angeles US Attorney's Office said.

The online bazaar provided order forms and customer service for shoppers, guaranteeing delivery in exchange for a commission and accepting payment through PayPal, Western Union and other means, the federal grand jury indictment charged.

The secret ring operated through the TOR computer network, which allows users to communicate anonymously, according to the indictment. Willems told prosecutors that the online bazaar processed some US$2.5 million (S$3.13 million) worth of orders over its several years of existence.

Willems was extradited from the Netherlands to face the charges and now faces a maximum penalty of life in prison. He is slated to be sentenced on Dec 10, prosecutors said.

He was one of eight people arrested and the sixth to plead guilty following a two-year investigation into the marketplace.

A seventh defendant, Ryan Rawls, 33, of Alpharetta, Georgia, has agreed to plead guilty on Monday to conspiring to distribute controlled substances, prosecutors said. An eighth suspect has since died, prosecutors said, without providing further details.

"The illegal sale of narcotics cannot be cloaked through the use of the Internet, even when sophisticated technology is used to conceal the drug trafficking," the acting US Attorney for the Central District of California, Stephanie Yonekura, said in a statement.

Federal officials dubbed the operation "Adam Bomb" because the original name of the marketplace was "Adamflowers".

Last month, federal officials brought charges against a Texas man who was accused of creating a similar online black market named "Silk Road", where users could buy drugs like heroin, LSD and methamphetamine as well as other illegal products and services.

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