A bitcoin trader from Ireland who developed a thriving online drug business was recently handed a 6.5-year prison sentence.
As reported by The Independent, Neil Mannion and Richard O’Connor, both of Dublin, pleaded guilty to possession of LSD, amphetamine and cannabis resin with intent to sell. The drugs found in their possession were reportedly worth €143,000 ($157,300).
Judge Martin Nolan called Mannion “the brains of the operation.” Whereas most people before the court were drug carriers or mules, Mannion owned and sold the drugs and sourced the customers.
Mannion described how he posted drug orders to different countries after trading bitcoin. He set up shop on dark net sites including Silk Road and Agora. He didn’t expect to get so many customers, but “things just flew.” He reported “reasonable” financial success with the trade, though his defense made sure to argue that he didn’t make significant money or lead an extravagant lifestyle.
Mannion had quit his €36,000 job at Irish telecommunications company Eircom in 2013 to set up an online drugs business, an e-cigarette business and an auction website.
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Bitcoin’s perceived anonymity makes it the desired currency for online commerce in drugs and other illegal contraband.
Mannion came under surveillance after investigators received a tip over a suspicious IP address. They followed Mannion’s car to the location where the operation was based. They found Mannion and O’Connor on the premises, along with a hold-all containing the drugs, a vacuum packing machine, weighing scales, envelopes and labels for posting.
During the trial of Ross Ulbrict, Silk Road’s convicted mastermind, there was considerable debate as to whether selling drugs online poses fewer dangers than doing so on the street. Here, Nolan took a hard line, saying: “It may seem that committing crimes on the internet is somewhat easier than selling drugs on the street. It gives the impression of invulnerability and the impression that the crime is less serious but it’s not. These two sold drugs to third parties for profit.”
O’Connor, who allegedly acted under Mannion’s instructions, got a 3-year sentence.
Although the blockbuster Silk Road trial is well behind us, there are still periodic arrests and prosecutions of other individuals allegedly involved. Several weeks ago, an alleged adviser to Ulbricht was arrested in Thailand.