A former medical student from the Middletown area has pleaded guilty to buying bulk quantities of fentanyl analogs and selling them using the “Dark Web,” including drugs that led to the overdose death of a Washington State teenager.
As part of the plea deal, Chukwuemeka Okparaeke will forfeit 680 Bitcoin, the equivalent of $7,298,000, which he previously surrendered to the U.S. Postal Inspection Service.
Okparaeke, 31, was a medical student at Touro College of Osteopathic Medicine in Middletown before his arrest in early 2017 on federal drug trafficking charges. On Thursday, he pleaded guilty in U.S. District Court in White Plains to one count of distributing U-47700; one count of importing 100 grams and more of acryl fentanyl; and one count of making false statements in a matter within the executive branch of the government of the United States (USPIS).
Federal prosecutors said Okparaeke admitted that in November 2016 he sold U-47700 to an 18-year-old Vancouver, Washington, man who died from an overdose after using the product; and that his offenses involved just over nine kilograms of acryl fentanyl, just under seven kilograms of U-47700, a little over one kilogram of furanyl fentanyl, and 12 grams of 4-ANPP. All of the drugs are synthetic opioids.
Prosecutors said that from at least July 2016 through March 2017, Okparaeke used the “Dark Web” AlphaBay Market, which allows users to mask their identities and remain anonymous, to import synthetic opioids from China and Hong Kong, and then sold the drugs under the vendor name Fentmaster. He took payment in Bitcoin, amassing more than $7 million in the digital currency from more than 7,000 transactions, prosecutors said.
“This case represents the tragic impact of fentanyl and other illicit narcotics in this country,” said Postal Inspector in Charge Phillip R. Bartlett. “Mr. Okparaeke used the anonymity of the darknet to peddle his narcotics believing he would be shielded from arrest and prosecution.”
Among the mistakes prosecutors say Okparaeke made: He posted a fictionalized account of his operation on reddit, and commented on strategies for avoiding law enforcement or prosecution.
USPIS got involved when staff at the Middletown Post Office noticed suspicious behavior by Okparaeke, including seeing him wearing “latex-dipped gloves” as he put large numbers of envelopes in the outdoor mail collection boxes. Federal Homeland Security Investigations joined in the case. Middletown police assisted. The probe also involved the Virginia State Attorney General and Vancouver, Washington, police.
In January 2017, USPIS, HSI and U.S. Customs and Border Patrol intercepted two packages of kilogram-weight fentanyl analogs mailed from Hong Kong to Okparaeke. In March 2017, law enforcement officials raided a property Okparaeke maintained in Kearny, New Jersey, seizing more than 10 kilograms of U-47700, acryl fentanyl, and furanyl fentanyl, some 4-ANPP and 82 mailing envelopes containing smaller amounts of drugs packaged to go to customers.
On Sept. 15, prosecutors said, Okparaeke falsely claimed that his Bitcoins had been stolen by hackers. He ultimately surrendered them to the USPIS.
Okparaeke remains in custody. Sentencing has been set for Dec. 17. Federal sentencing is determined by the charge as well as the nature of an offense and the defendant’s history. The most serious charge Okparaeke pleaded guilty to, the acryl fentanyl charge, carries a mandatory minimum of 10 years in prison and a maximum of life.
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