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West Van man faces U.S. charges of trafficking fentanyl on 'dark web'

A West Vancouver man and a British man face charges in the U.S. for allegedly running an international drug and money laundering operation that was linked to the opioid overdose deaths of two U.S. Navy servicemen.
RCMP border
The RCMP's federal serious and organized crime unit was part of an investigation that resulted in the arrest of a West Vancouver man on international drug trafficking charges.

A West Vancouver man is facing federal charges in the U.S. for allegedly running an international drug and money laundering operation over the “dark web” that was linked to the opioid overdose deaths of two U.S. Navy servicemen.

Thomas Michael Federuik, 59, of West Vancouver was arrested May 24 along with British citizen Paul Anthony Nicholls, 44, and are now awaiting an extradition hearing to bring them to the U.S.

The two face a U.S. indictment alleging the pair conspired to import drugs from China and Hungary while using the business names East Van Eco Tours and Bridge City Consulting LLP to distribute drugs across the U.S.

It also alleges fentanyl shipped by the two men led directly to the deaths of two U.S. servicemen.

Authorities said the joint U.S.-Canadian investigation began in 2017 with the fentanyl overdose deaths of two U.S. Navy petty officers in Kingsland, Georgia.

While investigating their deaths, American authorities discovered packaging material linking the toxic fentanyl to a shipment from a drug trafficker dubbed Canada1 at a West Vancouver address.

At the time, the two men linked with the address were already under investigation by the RCMP on suspicions of drug trafficking, said Corp. Arash Seyed, media spokesperson for the RCMP's federal serious and organized crime unit.

The U.S. and Canadian law enforcement agencies joined forced and the RCMP intercepted several packages being shipped by the Canada1 dealer and determined they contained fentanyl, said Seyed.

Drugs seized with street value of $30 million

In March of 2018, RCMP investigators arrested Federuik and Nicholls at a West Vancouver address and seized approximately 1.7 kilograms of fentanyl with a street value estimated at about $30 million. Investigators also discovered mail tracking slips that matched the fentanyl packaging material found by U.S. authorities, said Seyed.

Nicholls, whose visa had expired, was immediately deported to the U.K. while the investigation continued.

According to documents filed in the Southern District of Georgia US District Court, Federuik and Nicholls used aliases including Bitmessage accounts to conceal their identities and sold the drugs using cryptocurrency on internet sites including Dream Market, specifically to avoid detection.

The "dark web" is a layer of the Internet that can only be accessed by anonymizing web browsers, said Seyed, making transactions difficult to trace. It has been linked to illegal sales of drugs and firearms, among other things.

Fentanyl sales linked to two overdose deaths in U.S.

Court documents allege Federuik and Nicholls ran their international drug trafficking operation between April 2017 and February 2018. One shipment mailed from Canada on Sept. 27, 2017 and delivered in Georgia on Oct. 11, 2017 resulted in the death of one Navy serviceman, the documents alleged.

Another shipment mailed Oct. 6, 2017 and delivered Oct. 13, 2017 allegedly resulted in the second death.

Seyed said as far as RCMP are aware, the drug trafficking operation was shut down following the arrests, although Federuik remained free while the investigation continued. He said it had taken four years for the men to be charged because "it's just the nature of these kinds of investigations."

If convicted of the U.S. charges, the men face possible penalties of a minimum of 10 years in prison, up to life in prison, along with fines of up to $10 million.

U.S. authorities are also seeking forfeiture of any property derived from the proceeds of the criminal activity or used to facilitate the offences.

U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Georgia David Estes said in a statement that the prevalence of fentanyl is “in large part, fuelled by an illicit pipeline of illegally imported drugs. This investigation sought to trace that pipeline to its source . . .”

Federuik is currently being held in custody and will appear in B.C. Supreme Court Sept. 7 to fix a date for an extradition hearing.