By David Ibata
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
A 31-year-old Milton man was one of eight people arrested this week in an international crackdown on online drug dealing, authorities said.
Ryan Rawls was arrested Monday in what the federal Drug Enforcement Administration described as the first-of-its-kind federal indictment charging drug trafficking involving 5,000 customers in 50 states and 24 countries.
Seven others were arrested in Iowa, Michigan, New York, New Jersey, Florida, the Netherlands and Colombia in the bust of a secret online narcotics ring known as “The Farmer’s Market.” An unidentified suspect in Atlanta not named in the indictment also were arrested.
Witnesses told Channel 2 Action News that they saw DEA agents converge on Rawls’ apartment complex off Morris Road on Monday afternoon and arrest the man.
"I came out, and all these cops were coming out of regular cars,” Rachel Aufrere told Channel 2. “It seems like a really safe neighborhood. I was caught off guard the other day. I was like, why are all these people here?”
Rawls remained in federal custody Wednesday, Channel 2 reported.
The 66-page indictment unsealed Monday resulted from "Operation Adam Bomb," a two-year investigation led by agents of the DEA’s Los Angeles Field Division. The DEA was assisted by federal, state and local law enforcement, the U.S. Department of Justice’s Office of International Affairs, U.S. Postal Service and authorities in the Netherlands, Colombia and Scotland.
"The drug trafficking organization targeted in Operation Adam Bomb 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, DEA Acting Special Agent in Charge.
"Today's action should send a clear message to organizations that are using technology to conduct criminal activity that the DEA and our law enforcement partners will track them down and bring them to justice," Grey said.
According to the indictment, the defendants provided a controlled substances storefront, order forms, online forums, customer service and payment methods for the different sources of supply. For customers, the operators screened sources of supply and guaranteed delivery of the illegal drugs.
The online marketplaces handled all communications between suppliers and customers and charged a commission based upon the value of the order.
Illicit drugs included LSD, ecstasy, fentanyl, mescaline, ketamine, DMT and high-end marijuana. Between January 2007 and October 2009 alone, two of Rawls’ alleged accomplices processed about 5,256 online orders for controlled substances valued at approximately $1 million, authorities said.
The suspects tried to hide their activities using encrypted communications and convert currency transactions, but investigators were able to infiltrate the ring, authorities said.
During the roundup, federal agents and local law enforcement also seized hashish, LSD and MDMA, as well as an indoor psychotropic mushroom grow and three indoor marijuana grows, authorities said.
Each defendant is charged with conspiracy to distribute controlled substances, which carries a maximum prison sentence of life, and money laundering conspiracy, which carries a prison term of up to 20 years. Rawls and four others also are charged with the distribution of LSD, for which they could be sentenced to life.