DOJ says 25-year-old army vet enriched himself with Dark Web psychedelics
A 25-year-old military veteran has quietly become one of the most successful dark web narcotics traffickers in history, according to the DOJ. With a fortune of $ 15 million and sales of liquid mushrooms worth over $ 140 million in Bitcoin today, he had a lavish lifestyle at the height of his illegal empire, sources say and court documents reviewed by Forbes.
Maybe the US military is not paying enough. Or maybe the allure of making a fortune selling narcotics on the dark web – and the lavish lifestyle that goes with it – is too much for some.
According to the US government, one of its own, a 25-year-old military veteran named James Verl Barlow, made a small fortune in eight years whipping psychedelic drugs on a variety of Dark Web bazaars under the name Tripwithscience. . If the government’s account is fair, one of the members of the United States military was one of the most successful marketers to honor the Internet underworld; prosecutors still total what they claim to be the 44-year-old Las Vegas resident’s criminal earnings, but expect them to be between $ 12 million and $ 15 million in assets, in expensive property, cars luxury, jet skis, mountains of cryptocurrency and loaded fiat money bank accounts.
The Justice Department believes he was the coordinator of the drug trafficking organization Tripwithscience, but had a number of co-conspirators, including his brother, Matthew Barlow, 35. Together, the crew carried out a complex psychedelic operation on a global scale, according to the Department of Justice. The mushrooms themselves were cultivated by a business partner of Barlow’s older brother Ronald Brust, while Matthew Barlow and another co-conspirator mixed the liquefied mushrooms in the United States, before sending them to Tennessee and the United Kingdom. for additional packaging and delivery. They mainly sold liquid psychedelic mushrooms in nine milligram vials for $ 20 each in all kinds of markets, including Silk Road 2.0 and Empire, both now defunct, as well as more modern bazaars like Monopoly and Televend. The government claimed that the crew used a variety of shill accounts to promote the main Tripwithscience brand.
But in January of this year, investigators moved closer, retrieving data from what they claimed was Barlow’s Google Account. In his Google Drive were spreadsheets containing sales information from Tripwithscience and another vendor he helped manage, called Perfectshrooms, the government wrote in a search warrant. In a tab titled “2015 Receipts”, it showed that the accounts had made 704 darknet transactions, or just over 1,544 in Bitcoin, worth around $ 400,000 at the time, but worth now about $ 90 million. On another spreadsheet, Bitcoin revenue data for each year was recorded, showing that it earned nearly 2,300 Bitcoins from 2014 to 2020, currently worth $ 140 million. During that time, he was making about $ 4,000 a month working for the US military as a First Class Sergeant, according to a search warrant request from the Department of Justice.
The DOJ has not explained how it came to estimate Barlow’s fortune at the much lower figure of $ 15 million. He would have had significant expenses, according to court records, which show he was paying up to $ 6,000 in cryptocurrency every two weeks to a resender, who was responsible for packing the psychedelic vials. In addition to that, there was the buying and manufacturing of the narcotics, according to court documents, as well as the packaging and payment of the co-conspirators.
Investigators noted that Barlow was listed as the owner of a handful of other businesses, with names such as Good to Glow and Illuminated Couture, both of which made clothing that contained LED lights and were managed with Brust, the alleged producer. of mushrooms. The Justice Department said Barlow “was not generating enough, if any, income from these companies to support his lifestyle, which included private jet travel, world travel, auto purchases. upscale and owned by several properties, “including one worth $ 1.5 million, purchased in March. He owned two Tesla cars and bought two more for friends in recent years, according to the DOJ, which said he also owns two jet skis. A Google Maps search for his property listed in government court documents shows two Teslas, a Mercedes and two jet skis outside a large one-story building. A video from his Google Drive account also showed Barlow discussing how he purchased land in Colorado using Bitcoin, the government said.
James Barlow and his brother were arrested in April, but have yet to file a complaint. The siblings’ lawyer declined to comment. Brust and the other co-conspirators have pleaded not guilty and are awaiting a trial date.
The Barlows aren’t the first brothers to be accused of running a dark web drug business. As Forbes reported in 2020, two brothers were charged with running a six-year program under the name Pill Cosby, laundering $ 2.8 million during that time. Global law enforcement continues to crack down on dark web dealers, announcing the arrest of 150 suspected suspects involved in buying or selling illicit goods on the dark web. More than $ 30 million in cash and virtual currencies were seized, along with 234 kg of drugs and 45 firearms, according to Europol.
Cuddle with a Cuddler?
Court documents reveal little more about Barlow. According to a source close to the DOJ investigation, he served in the U.S. Army from 1994 to 2019 both in the National Guard and as an active deployed soldier, retiring in 2019.
Web domain registrations have provided clues in her personal history. Forbes perused the stories of websites created by the same Jim Barlow who started the Royal Bowmen Company, which the Justice Department said was one of his companies. Records show he had long tried to become a legitimate entrepreneur through clothing, before his foray into LED-based tailoring. In 2006, he created SmartTorso.com, which sold “funny shirts for smart people”. In a farewell message in 2015, he said he was on the verge of breaking even and that was not enough to keep going. It was two years after starting his alleged dark web business.
His registered websites also included a personal page, which redirected to his Facebook profile. His profile photo includes Barlow in his full uniform, while his background image shows him appearing to be on the stairs of a luxury boat, wearing a bright bow tie and pocket square, surrounded by scantily clad women. He had given himself the nickname of Cuddlefish, domains he had also registered for, including cuddlefish.xyz.
A version of this story appeared in my weekly Cybercrime and Surveillance newsletter, Listening, where I linked all relevant court documents. You can register here for exclusives and all the security, intelligence and privacy news you need to know today.