Major Drug Network Uncovered: Spanned California, Texas, and Florida

Drug trafficking is a serious crime that poses a threat to public health and safety. The darknet, or the hidden part of the internet that can only be accessed with special software, is a common platform for drug dealers and buyers to conduct illicit transactions.

However, law enforcement agencies are not deterred by the anonymity and encryption of the darknet. In fact, they have been conducting coordinated international operations to disrupt and dismantle drug networks that operate on the darknet.

Operation SpecTor

One of the most recent and successful operations against darknet drug trafficking was Operation SpecTor, which was announced by the Department of Justice on May 2, 2023.

Operation SpecTor was a joint effort by the Joint Criminal Opioid and Darknet Enforcement (JCODE) team and international partners, spanning three continents: North America, Europe, and South America. The operation targeted fentanyl and opioid trafficking on the darknet, which are among the most dangerous and addictive substances in the world.

Operation SpecTor resulted in 288 arrests, the most ever for any JCODE operation and nearly double that of the prior operation. Law enforcement also seized 117 firearms, 850 kilograms of drugs that include 64 kilograms of fentanyl or fentanyl-laced narcotics, and $53.4 million in cash and virtual currencies.

The operation also involved a public awareness campaign called Operation ProtecTor, which aimed to promote public safety and spread awareness of resources for those struggling with substance abuse and who go through extreme lengths to obtain opioids.

Major Cases

Among the many cases that were part of Operation SpecTor, some of the most notable ones involved drug networks that spanned across California, Texas, and Florida. These networks were responsible for producing, distributing, and selling large quantities of fentanyl, methamphetamine, and other drugs to thousands of customers across the United States and the world.

1.) In Los Angeles, California, Christopher Hampton, 36, was charged with heading an organization that obtained bulk fentanyl, operated labs that used high-speed pill presses to create fake pills containing fentanyl and methamphetamine, and sold millions of pills to thousands of customers on the darknet.

Hampton and his associates used various online monikers, such as “The Drug Llama” and “The King of Pills”, to advertise and sell their products. Hampton was also accused of laundering millions of dollars in cryptocurrency and using the proceeds to buy luxury cars, jewelry, and real estate.

2.) In San Diego, California, a major takedown dismantled a multi-state methamphetamine network tied to the Sinaloa Cartel, one of the most powerful and violent drug trafficking organizations in the world. The network supplied multi-kilogram quantities of methamphetamine and gamma-hydroxybutyrate (GHB) to dozens of subdistributors located throughout the United States and the world, including California, Arizona, Oregon, Wyoming, Texas, Arkansas, Florida, Virginia, Washington, D.C., Australia, Canada, Germany, and the Netherlands.

The network used encrypted communication platforms, such as Wickr and Telegram, to coordinate their activities and avoid detection. The takedown resulted in the arrest of 43 defendants and the seizure of over 1,100 pounds of methamphetamine, 20 kilograms of heroin, 5 kilograms of cocaine, 50,000 fentanyl pills, and $1.6 million in cash.

3.) In Houston, Texas, a massive tunnel was found from Mexico into the United States, with $25 million worth of drugs inside. The tunnel was discovered by the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of California, along with the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) and Homeland Security Investigations (HSI). The tunnel was 1,300 feet long, 3 feet wide, and 4 feet tall, and was equipped with lighting, ventilation, and a rail system.

The tunnel was used to smuggle drugs from a warehouse in Tijuana, Mexico, to a warehouse in Otay Mesa, California. The drugs included 1,930 pounds of cocaine, 86 pounds of methamphetamine, 17 pounds of heroin, 3,000 pounds of marijuana, and more than 2 pounds of fentanyl.

4.) In Miami, Florida, six people were arrested for their involvement in a drug trafficking ring that operated on the darknet and shipped drugs to customers using the U.S. Postal Service. The ring sold various drugs, such as cocaine, heroin, fentanyl, ecstasy, and ketamine, on darknet marketplaces, such as Empire Market and Apollon Market.

The ring used sophisticated methods to conceal their identities and transactions, such as encryption, cryptocurrency, and money laundering. The ring also used fake names, addresses, and return labels to mail the drugs to their customers. The investigation revealed that the ring shipped over 1,000 packages of drugs to customers in 43 states and 12 countries.


Operation SpecTor was a remarkable achievement for law enforcement agencies in their fight against darknet drug trafficking. The operation demonstrated the global reach and cooperation of JCODE and its international partners, as well as their ability to infiltrate and disrupt the most sophisticated and dangerous drug networks on the darknet.

The operation also showed the public the grave risks and consequences of buying and using drugs from the darknet, and the resources available for those who seek help. Operation SpecTor was not the end, but rather the continuation, of the relentless pursuit of justice and public safety by law enforcement agencies around the world.

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