Alleged Owner of Darknet Narcotics Bazaar ‘Incognito Market’ Arrested in New York

Taiwanese national Rui-Siang Lin, 23 is accused of facilitating $100 million in sales paid through crypto of illegal narcotics, including fentanyl, through the online marketplace.

AccessTimeIconMay 20, 2024 at 9:38 p.m. UTC
Updated May 20, 2024 at 9:41 p.m. UTC

U.S. authorities have arrested and charged a Taiwanese national with operating darknet drug bazaar Incognito Market, which he allegedly used to facilitate over $100 million in crypto-denominated sales of illegal narcotics including fentanyl.

Prosecutors say Rui-Siang Lin, 23, operated Incognito Market under the pseudonym “Pharoah” and oversaw all of its operations, including employees, vendors and customers, and had “ultimate decision-making authority over every aspect of the multimillion-dollar operation” from its formation in October 2020 to its shutdown in March this year.

“The dedicated prosecutors from the Southern District of New York and our law enforcement partners will pursue criminal actors regardless of whether they operate on street corners or in the dark corners of the internet,” said U.S. Attorney Damian Williams in a Monday statement. “The so-called ‘dark web’ is not a safe haven for those who seek to break the law.”

Lin was arrested at New York’s John F. Kennedy Airport on Saturday and will be presented in front of a Southern District of New York (SDNY) magistrate judge today. He faces one count of engaging in a continuing criminal enterprise, one count of narcotics conspiracy, one count of money laundering, and one count of conspiracy to sell adulterated and misbranded medication.

The first charge – sometimes called the “kingpin statute” – carries a mandatory minimum sentence of life in prison. Ross Ulbricht, the creator and operator of the now-shuttered Silk Road darknet drug marketplace, was found guilty of the same crime and sentenced to life in prison. The narcotics conspiracy charge carries a mandatory minimum sentence of 10 years and a maximum potential sentence of life in prison. The other two charges carry a combined maximum of 25 years in prison.

Lin allegedly made millions from operating Incognito Market, which took a 5% cut of every sale. The darknet market had its own “bank,” prosecutors said, which gave users an additional layer of anonymity by allowing them to deposit cryptocurrency into their own accounts, which the site then automatically transferred from buyers to sellers, minus the fee.

According to the complaint, Lin created and operated Incognito Market while an undergraduate student at the prestigious National Taiwan University.

In March, Incognito Market shut down after reportedly pulling an exit scam that left users unable to withdraw their funds. Administrators of the site then reportedly began extorting vendors, ordering them to pay a fee ranging from $100 to $20,000, depending on their size, or else risk having their customers’ data leaked.

Lin, a self-described crypto developer and fan of privacy coin Monero, said on X that he facilitated a four-day workshop on cyber crime and cryptocurrency for 30 police officers at the Saint Lucia Police Academy in early April.

Edited by Nikhilesh De.


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Cheyenne Ligon

Cheyenne Ligon is a CoinDesk news reporter with a focus on crypto regulation and policy. She has no significant crypto holdings.