A federal task force has brought down the largest fentanyl drug lab in history by using undercover agents who ferreted out the operator selling on the dark web from his home in Los Angeles, authorities said Monday.
The Drug Enforcement Agency, FBI, U.S. Attorney’s Office, and others described in a press conference how they worked to bring down dark web kingpin Christopher Hampton, 36, who created his own manufacturing and distribution business selling more than a million fentanyl and methamphetamine pills.
Hampton was indicted Friday on 11 counts of manufacturing and distribution and one illegal weapons count that could result in life in prison if he is convicted. The Joint Criminal Opioid and Darknet Enforcement Team, J-CODE, has arrested more than 300 drug traffickers and seized $42 million and 800 kilograms of narcotics, along with 145 firearms.
Hampton’s case began two years ago when he started setting up a drug trafficking ring on Tor, a dark web server, according to an indictment. He created an online store called Narco710 and began purchasing equipment, such as a pill press that could produce 5,000 pills an hour.
The packaging and distribution arm of the business moved from his home to a basement in Inglewood, near downtown Los Angeles.
Soon he had a bustling business in the Dark0de Market, where drug buyers posted reviews, including one that said, “This vendor is the GOAT of the dark web.”
Hampton even videotaped himself making drugs, holding a large bag of blue powder.
“I got the powder for the blues today, too. You use one-tenth of this, so if you’re doing 10 grams, you do 10 grams of the other stuff and 1 gram of [this],” Hampton instructed an associate.
During February 2022, Hampton made more than $1 million in drug sales, the indictment said. An assistant was hired at $5,000 a month to handle the volume of sales.
“It’s simple…Pkg and dropping letters off at blue box usps Don’t even go inside,” Hampton texted the worker.
Much of what Hampton learned was gleaned from the Quora research website, but he also had questions about law enforcement.
The topics he asked about included, “What is a typical shift like for a big city cop, for example an officer in the LAPD?” and “If I was being hunted by the US Marshals, the FBI, the DEA and the ATF, how could I keep from getting caught?”
Undercover federal agents began contacting Hampton on Tor and made purchases in February and May, including one buy that was 102 grams of pure methamphetamine, the indictment said.
During that time, Hampton appeared to be increasingly paranoid about getting caught and asked a series of questions like, “Can FBI or CIA track your messages from your phone?” and “What are the telltale signs of an undercover FBI agent?”
He was arrested on Nov. 2 when task force investigators served search warrants and found 450 pounds of suspected narcotics, six pill press machines, and illegal firearms that included assault rifles and a suspected machine gun. Agents also recovered more than 20,000 multicolored pills containing fentanyl — “skittles” manufactured to resemble oxycodone pills.
“This is the largest drug seizure we’ve had since 2018, when the task force was initiated,” FBI Special Agent in Charge Brian Gilhooly said.
While some of the drugs have come from China, an ever-increasing number arrive across the Mexico-California border, he said.
“Due to our proximity to the border, LA is a major hub to dark net,” he said.
Martin Estrada, U.S. attorney for the Central District of California, said his office is working to intercept the shipments from Mexican drug cartels.
“Driven by greed, those organizations continue to find new ways to get significant shipments of narcotics into the United States,” he said. “Unfortunately, in the case of fentanyl, those shipments appear to be getting larger as the traffickers ramp up production. Drug cartels are marketing bulk fentanyl in increasing quantities.”