“Incognito Market” Owner Arrested for Operating One of the Largest Illegal Narcotics Marketplaces on the Internet

Rui-Siang Lin Used the Identity of “Pharoah” to Operate Incognito Market, Which Sold More Than $100M of Illegal Narcotics to Customers Around the World

Rui-Siang Lin, also known as Ruisiang Lin, 林睿庠, Pharoah, and faro, 23, of Taiwan, was arrested today in connection with his operation and ownership of “Incognito Market,” an online dark web narcotics marketplace that enabled its users to buy and sell illegal narcotics anonymously around the world. Lin was arrested at John F. Kennedy Airport on May 18, and will be presented in Manhattan federal court before U.S. Magistrate Judge Willis later today.

“Drug traffickers who think they can operate outside the law on the dark web are wrong,” said Attorney General Merrick B. Garland. “As alleged, Rui-Siang Lin was the architect of Incognito, a $100 million dark web scheme to traffic deadly drugs to the United States and around the world. The long arm of the law extends to the dark web, and we will bring to justice those who try to hide their crimes there.”

As alleged in the complaint and the indictment, Incognito Market was an online narcotics bazaar that existed on the dark web. Incognito Market formed in October 2020. Since that time, and through its closing in March, Incognito Market sold more than $100 million of narcotics — including hundreds of kilograms of cocaine and methamphetamines. Incognito Market was available globally to anyone with internet access and could be accessed using the Tor web browser on the “dark web” or “darknet.” Lin operated the Incognito market under the online pseudonym “Pharoah” or “faro.” As “Pharoah” — the leader of Incognito market — Lin supervised all of its operations, including its employees, vendors, and customers, and had ultimate decision-making authority over every aspect of the multimillion-dollar operation.

“As alleged, Rui-Siang Lin operated a sophisticated and dangerous online narcotics marketplace through which he profited millions of dollars at the community’s expense,” said U.S. Attorney Damian Williams for the Southern District of New York. “The dedicated prosecutors from the Southern District of New York and our law enforcement partners will pursue criminal actors regardless of whether they operate on street corners or in the dark corners of the internet. The so-called ‘dark web’ is not a safe haven for those who seek to break the law.”

“For nearly four years, Rui-Siang Lin allegedly operated ‘Incognito Market,’ one of the largest online platforms for narcotics sales, conducting $100 million in illicit narcotics transactions and reaped millions of dollars in personal profits,” said Assistant Director in Charge James Smith of the FBI New York Field Office. “Under the promise of anonymity, Lin’s alleged operation offered the purchase of lethal drugs and fraudulent prescription medication on a global scale. The FBI is committed to targeting and dismantling all criminal enterprises, especially those whose leaders distribute illegal substances on the dark web.”

“As alleged, Rui-Siang Lin’s brazen operation resulted in the illicit sale of over $100 million in narcotics, including those that were mislabeled and later found to include deadly fentanyl,” said Special Agent in Charge Ivan J. Arvelo of Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) New York. “The defendant’s greed and disregard for others was further demonstrated by his alleged extortion attempt during the platform’s final days. The El Dorado Task Force’s Darkweb and Cryptocurrency Task Force leverages cutting-edge techniques to target even the Internet’s most savvy criminals. HSI New York, in coordination with law enforcement partners, remains resolute in its commitment to protecting the public from individuals utilizing dangerous means to make a profit.”

“The arrest of ‘Incognito Market’ owner Rui-Siang Lin is a result of the continued working relationship the DEA has with our law enforcement partners in targeting individuals who use the dark web as a marketplace to promote the sale of illicit narcotics,” said Special Agent in Charge Frank A. Tarentino III of the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA)’s New York Division. “Mr. Lin’s alleged actions of putting profits before public health were not only reckless and dangerous, but unconscionable. We will continue to make sure those who hide behind a keyboard and use the dark web to profit off lives face justice.”

“The FDA is committed to continuing its work to disrupt and dismantle the illegal sales of drugs on the dark web, where such sales far too often have tragic consequences,” said Special Agent in Charge Charles Grinstead of the Food and Drug Administration’s Office of Criminal Investigations (FDA-OCI) Kansas City Field Office. “We will continue to monitor, investigate, and bring to justice those who misuse the internet in a quest for profits with reckless disregard for the risk to public health and safety.”

“This arrest underscores the dedicated, ongoing efforts of law enforcement to identify and dismantle illicit drug networks operating from every shadowy recess of the marketplace,” said Commissioner Edward A. Caban of the New York Police Department (NYPD). “I commend our NYPD investigators and all of our state and federal partners for their unwavering commitment to public safety.”

Incognito Market was designed to foster seamless narcotics transactions across the internet and across the world and incorporated many features of legitimate e-commerce sites such as branding, advertising, and customer service. Upon visiting the site, users were met by a splash page and graphic interface, which is picture below:

Incognito Market splash page and graphic interface

After logging in with a unique username and password, users were able to search thousands of listings for narcotics of their choice. Incognito Market sold illegal narcotics and misbranded prescription medication, including, heroin, cocaine, LSD, MDMA, oxycodone, methamphetamines, ketamine, and alprazolam. An example of listings on Incognito market is below:

Incognito Market example listings

Listings included offerings of prescription medication that was advertised as being authentic but was not. For example, in November 2023, an undercover law enforcement agent received several tablets that purported to be oxycodone, which were purchased on Incognito Market. Testing on those tablets revealed that they were not authentic oxycodone at all and were, in fact, fentanyl pills.

Each listing on Incognito Market was sold by a particular vendor. To become an Incognito Market vendor, each vendor was required to register with the site and pay an admission fee. In exchange for listing and selling narcotics as a vendor on Incognito Market, each vendor paid 5% of the purchase price of every narcotic sold to Incognito Market. That revenue funded Incognito Market’s operations, including paying “employee” salaries and for computer servers. Lin collected millions of dollars of profits from Incognito. To facilitate these financial transactions, Incognito Market had its own “bank,” which allowed its users to deposit cryptocurrency on the site into their own “bank accounts.” After a narcotics transaction was completed, cryptocurrency from the buyer’s “bank account” was transferred to the seller’s “bank account,” less the 5% fee that Incognito collected. The bank enabled buyers and sellers to stay anonymous from each other. The bank’s graphic interface is picture below:

Incognito Market's bank graphic interface

If convicted, Lin faces a mandatory minimum penalty of life in prison for engaging in a continuing criminal enterprise; a maximum penalty of life in prison for narcotics conspiracy; a maximum penalty of 20 years in prison for money laundering; and a maximum penalty of five years in prison for conspiracy to sell adulterated and misbranded medication. A federal district court judge will determine any sentence after considering the U.S. Sentencing Guidelines and other statutory factors.

The FBI, HSI, DEA, FDA-OCI, and NYPD investigated the case.

Assistant U.S. Attorneys Ryan B. Finkel and Nicholas Chiuchiolo for the Southern District of New York are prosecuting the case.

This effort is part of an Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Forces (OCDETF) operation. OCDETF identifies, disrupts, and dismantles the highest-level criminal organizations that threaten the United States using a prosecutor-led, intelligence-drive, multi-agency approach. Additional information about the OCDETF Program can be found at www.justice.gov/OCDETF.

An indictment is merely an allegation. All defendants are presumed innocent until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt in a court of law.

Updated May 20, 2024
Tags: Drug Trafficking DTO Opioid Crisis

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