Jerome Bannister saw them before they saw him. They were sitting in a Honda Accord near the exit of the strip mall. He couldn't tell their race, or their age but he knew who they were: feds.
The short story was posted in two parts to /r/darknetmarkets last month, a tale of a former medical student turning to the drug trade to pay off student loans. Nominally fiction, the story showed a surprising knowledge of the trade, going into detail on Jerome’s VPN setup for buying heroin online, as well as his habit of wearing latex gloves when he mailed a package.
The author was right about one other thing: by the time the story was posted, the Feds were already closing in.
“He knew who they were: feds.”
Last week, police announced the arrest of Chukwuemeka Okparaeke for conspiracy to distribute large quantities of opiates. It was the result of months of investigation by the US Postal Investigation Service, starting with a tip from a Middletown, NY post office in November. An employee there had noticed a customer mailing a large quantity of packages while wearing latex gloves.
The more investigators looked into the packages, the more they found suspicious. The return address was listed as “Middletown Sweets” — but no such business existed at the named address. At the same time, a group of Virginia police officers had been making drug buys on the AlphaBay market, a dark web drug market similar to Silk Road. One buy from a user called “Fentmaster” brought them a package of a Fentanyl-like opiate, with “Middletown Sweets” listed as its return address.
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It was stamps that ultimately led police to Okparaeke. Each of the packages flagged by the Middletown office used the same kind of stamp — a $6.45 “La Cueva de Indio” stamp. Records showed an account registered in Okparaeke’s name had spent more than $3,200 on those stamps in the last months of 2016.
In January, customs officers at JFK performed a spot check on two packages mailed to Okparaeke from Hong Kong. There was a kilogram of fentanyl analogue in each one. Police stopped Okparaeke when he picked up the packages, searching his cellphone and taking him back to the station for an interview. Okparaeke claimed he was being paid to forward the packages to a buyer named Xavier Johnson, and was released without charges.
The arrest wasn’t enough to keep Fentmaster quiet. In March, police placed an order from Fentmaster on AlphaBay, and observed Okparaeke mailing a package of opiates to the same address two days later. He was arrested shortly afterward.
Still, the most surprising part of the indictment came from Reddit. The search of Okparaeke’s phone led police to his Reddit account, where he posted under the name “bmoreproduct1.” Once they found the story, the similarities between Jerome and Okparaeke were hard to ignore. They were both former doctors, both used false return addresses, and both had run-ins with local police. Xavier Johnson even made an appearance as the main character’s brother.
It’s hard to say how useful the fiction will be in court — but coming just after Okparaeke’s arrest in January, it reads like a premonition of the pending charges.
“He could barely go anywhere without thinking he was about to be arrested,” one passage reads. “He had made every precaution but still believed he would end up in jail.”