He got his nickname, “Oxymonster,” for his impressive talent as a broker of opioid, heroin and cocaine deals on the dark web.
He got caught peddling the illegal drugs on the internet because he traveled with his long reddish-brown whiskers to compete in a beard-growing contest in the United States.
Frenchman Gal Vallerius, 36, was sentenced Tuesday in Miami federal court to 20 years after pleading guilty to two conspiracy charges of distributing drugs and money laundering as a “senior moderator” managing narcotics deals on the dark web’s eBay-like site, Dream Market.
Vallerius, who gave short responses in Hebrew during the hearing, said nothing when asked by U.S. District Judge Robert Scola if he wanted to make a statement. He still had his flowing reddish-brown beard Tuesday, along with a beige yarmulke atop his head.
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“This is a very serious offense involving a huge amount of drugs,” Scola said, before agreeing to the joint sentencing recommendation of 20 years by federal prosecutor Tony Gonzalez and assistant federal public defender Anthony Natale. Under sentencing guidelines, Vallerius could have faced up to 40 years on the two conspiracy convictions.
Vallerius’ wife, who lives in France with their child, sent a letter to the judge seeking mercy.
“His arrest has broken him mentally,” Yasmin Vallerius wrote. “He has lost everything. I know he’s regretting everything, and I know he’ll never make the same mistake!”
Vallerius’ case has drawn international attention, especially from the news media in France, where he was living before making the mistake of traveling to the United States in the summer of 2017. He symbolizes the new breed of international drug traffickers who have created a secret marketplace for illegal narcotics transactions on the dark web, in sharp contrast to the infamous Latin American cartels that have produced, transported and distributed cocaine and other drugs for decades.
Vallerius, who cut a plea deal in June after facing up to life in prison on his initial indictment, has been assisting the feds in the ongoing investigation in the hope of eventually receiving a sentence reduction. But Gonzalez said that while he has been truthful, Vallerius has not provided enough assistance resulting in other arrests to earn a decrease.
Vallerius, a cyber whiz who is from the Brittany region of France and has French, Israeli and English citizenship, was arrested in the summer of 2017 in Atlanta en route to a world beard-growing competition in Texas.
Vallerius traveled with his wife from their home in France to Texas, where he wanted to compete in the beard contest 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; and $500,000 worth of the digital currency bitcoin, according to a Drug Enforcement Administration affidavit.
At the time of Vallerius’ arrest a year ago, the Dream Market “was one of the largest dark web criminal marketplaces,” according to a statement filed with his plea deal.
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.
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 their 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.
Tracking down Vallerius — the biggest of a half-dozen dark web targets charged over the past three years in South Florida — was not easy. It involved the DEA, FBI, IRS, Homeland Security Investigations and the U.S. Postal Inspection Service.