The alleged creator of a website that allowed suppliers of LSD, ecstasy and other drugs to anonymously sell their wares on the Internet pleaded not guilty today in downtown Los Angeles to federal charges that could land him in prison for life.
Dutch citizen Marc Willems, 43, is charged in a 12-count indictment with conspiracy to distribute controlled substances, money laundering conspiracy, and distribution of LSD.
Willems was arrested in April 2012 at his home in the Netherlands and subsequently brought to Los Angeles, where he and seven others allegedly linked to the website's operations face trial.
The case was filed in Los Angeles because some of the customers and an undercover agent who bought drugs through the marketplace are from the area, prosecutors said.
At a brief court appearance, Willems was ordered by U.S. Magistrate Judge Alka Sagar detained pending trial on the grounds of flight risk and safety to the community. A tentative trial date was set for May 20, but that is expected to be postponed.
Operators of the website -- dubbed Farmer's Market -- provided a "controlled substances storefront, order forms, online forums, customer service, and payment methods for the different sources of supply," according to the U.S. Attorney's Office.
"For customers, the operators screened all sources of supply and guaranteed delivery of the illegal drugs," federal prosecutors said. "The online marketplace handled all communications between the sources of supply and customers. For these services, the operators charged a commission based upon the value of the order."
Prosecutors contend that from 2007 to 2009 alone, the website processed more than 5,000 orders for drugs valued at over $1 million. Customers came from some 34 countries and all 50 states, authorities said.
As alleged in the indictment, the Farmers Market, previously known as Adamflowers, operated on the Tor network. Tor allows websites and electronic mail communications to mask their Internet address information by spreading communications over a series of computers throughout the world.
The website accepted Western Union, PayPal, and cash as payment for illegal drug sales, according to prosecutors.
The organization "was distributing dangerous and addictive drugs to every corner of the world, and trying to hide their activities through the use of advanced anonymizing online technology," said Briane M. Grey, acting special agent in charge of the Los Angeles Field Division for the Drug Enforcement Administration.
Each defendant is charged with conspiracy to distribute controlled substances, which carries a maximum sentence of life imprisonment, and money laundering conspiracy, which carries a maximum of 20 years in federal prison. Willems and four others have also been charged with the distribution of LSD, which carries a maximum of life behind bars.
—City News Service