At first, he sold Oxycodone and Ritalin on the dark web under the moniker "OxyMonster."
Frenchman Gal Vallerius gained such a name for himself on Dream Market's eBay-like site that he was hired as a "senior moderator" to manage transactions between buyers and sellers of multiple kilos of cocaine, heroin and other narcotics — all paid for with the virtual currency bitcoin.
"The defendant, through his actions, rose through the ranks," federal prosecutor Alden Pelker told U.S. District Judge Robert Scola at Vallerius' plea hearing Tuesday. "There is a five-star vendor rating system."
"Like Yelp reviews," Scola remarked.
After his promotion on the Dream Market site was clarified for the judge, the 36-year-old Vallerius pleaded guilty to conspiring to distribute drugs and commit money laundering between 2013 and 2017 and now faces 20 years in prison at his sentencing on Sept. 25 under a plea agreement with the U.S. Attorney's Office.
Vallerius, who spoke in Hebrew during his plea hearing, is perhaps one of the most unique drug-trafficking defendants to appear in Miami federal court, a place that has seen its share of colorful characters, from Colombian kingpins to cocaine cowboys. Vallerius, a cyber whiz who is from the Brittany region of France and has French, Israeli and English citizenship, was arrested in August in Atlanta en route to a world beard-growing competition in Texas.
Vallerius was still wearing his long reddish-brown beard on Tuesday, along with a yarmulke atop his head.
Under his plea agreement, Vallerius is cooperating with federal prosecutors and the Drug Enforcement Administration in the hope of reducing his ultimate sentence in exchange for his insider knowledge. At the time of Vallerius' arrest last August, the Dream Market "was one of the largest dark web criminal marketplaces," according to a statement filed with his plea deal.
The site had 94,236 listings for an array of illegal drugs, paraphernalia and digital services. "By virtue of the size and scope of the marketplace ... it was the intent of the operators and vendors on Dream Market to distribute" more than 450 kilos of cocaine, 90 kilos of heroin and 45 kilos of methamphetamine, the statement said. During its investigation of the Dream Market, DEA agents made numerous undercover online purchases of meth, LSD and hydrocodone and received the drugs through the U.S. mail in South Florida.
After Vallerius assists the feds in the ongoing investigation, he can eventually seek a transfer to France, Israel or Great Britain to complete his U.S. prison term in one of those countries. "At this point, we don't know which specific country," Assistant Federal Public Defender Anthony Natale told the judge.
In the aftermath of his arrest last summer, Vallerius was facing up to life in prison on an indictment filed in Miami. Natale tried to keep out the critical piece of evidence that agents took from him when he arrived in the U.S. — his laptop computer. When that failed, Natale worked out the plea deal with prosecutors Pelker and Tony Gonzalez to spare him from spending the rest of his life in prison, according to court records.
Of course, Vallerius' biggest mistake was traveling with his wife from their home in France to Texas, where he wanted to compete in the world beard-growing championship in Austin. After arriving on Aug. 31, 2017, in Atlanta, Vallerius was detained for questioning about his laptop and then arrested by U.S. authorities.
Vallerius’ laptop contained the TOR browser, which allows users to conceal their true internet protocol addresses on that network; his log-in credential for Dream Market, the eBay-type marketplace for illegal narcotics and drug paraphernalia; and $500,000 worth of the digital currency bitcoin, according to a DEA affidavit.
Tracking down Vallerius — the biggest of a half-dozen dark web targets charged over the past two years in South Florida — was not easy. It involved the DEA, FBI, IRS, Homeland Security Investigations and the U.S. Postal Inspection Service.
Vallerius played the secret role of moderator on Dream Market, the dark web site that allows illicit drug sellers and buyers to make deals in Europe and the United States without revealing their true identities. The underground website is not only a marketplace, it provides technical assistance, resolves disputes and posts reviews of vendors. And, like eBay, Dream Market charges a commission on every transaction as a percentage of the sales price.
In January 2017, DEA agents logged into Dream Market’s home page and clicked a link called “Forum,” which allows sellers, buyers and moderators to discuss anything for sale on the dark web, according to the DEA affidavit. While browsing the forum, agents navigated to a topic called “Official Staff” under the “Announcements” tab. The first posting was written by “OxyMonster,” Vallerius’ alias, though agents had not made that connection yet. They clicked on “OxyMonster” and were taken to his profile, which said he was a senior moderator.
Last summer, DEA agents also identified “OxyMonster” as a vendor on Dream Market who shipped from France to anywhere in Europe as well as to the United States, the affidavit said. Agents analyzed his posts on the Dream Market forum, including tips on how to stay anonymous on the dark web. Last August, agents learned that “OxyMonster” was using a certain bitcoin address for the sales transactions. They soon analyzed incoming and outgoing transactions from that bitcoin address and discovered that most of them went to Vallerius on Localbitcoins.com.
"In connection with his role as a 'senior moderator,' [Vallerius] also sold controlled substances to other members using the website, receiving payment for these sales through the use of a bitcoin 'tip jar,' or electronic depository," according to a magistrate judge's summary of the prosecution's case. "It was through this tip jar that law enforcement officials became aware of Vallerius' true identity."