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Three imprisoned in one of Britain’s largest dark web drugs cases

|News, Fraud and economic crime

Three criminals who used the dark web to distribute counterfeit drugs have been jailed today (31 March 2023) in one of the biggest operations of its kind. 

The South East Regional Organised Crime Unit (SEROCU) and CPS prosecution team identified Marc James Ward as a leading global supplier of counterfeit Xanax.

Marc James Ward, 36; Christopher James Kirby, 35; and Thomas Russell Durden, 36; pleaded guilty to unlawfully supplying a variety of drugs, including counterfeit Pfizer Xanax, as well as money laundering offences, and were sentenced to a total of 20 years and 11 months at Portsmouth Crown Court.

The defendants were responsible for the production and supply of counterfeit Alprazolam tablets, as well as other controlled drugs including counterfeit Xanax.The counterfeit “Xanax” had been produced online and sold, via darknet markets, by the “Hulkedbenzoboss”  and “Achlysuk” as well as from “Clearnet” websites under the name “” and “”.

The defendants received payment for these drugs in bitcoin, and used cryptocurrency to launder the proceeds.

Joanne Jakymec, Chief Crown Prosecutor said: “These three defendants showed complete disregard for the possible health implications of their counterfeiting operation. They were focussed only on their financial gain and not on the damage that their drug production and sale could cause to others.

“We put together a compelling case with the officers from SEROCU, and used expert witnesses in drugs supply and crypto currency witnesses to deal with a challenging and complex case.

“The CPS will now start proceedings to recoup the proceeds of crime from the defendants."

The CPS is committed to working alongside law enforcement to prosecute organised criminal gangs responsible for significant harm to the public.

Prevention of falling victim to fake medicines

It takes laboratory testing to confirm 100% if a medication is authentic or counterfeit but there are often indicators that are worth looking out for:

  • Spelling errors. Misspellings of the product name, manufacturer, or main ingredients on medicine bottle labels or other packaging are some of the biggest and most noticeable mistakes.
  • Medication appearance. Your medication could change size and shape, and any sudden differences between refills should give you pause. Call your doctor or pharmacy to confirm any changes.
  • Medication quality. Legitimate pills will always have a factory-made appearance. If your tablets are cracked, have a bubbled-up coating, or are crumbly, take notice. Mouldy pills or jars containing excess powder or crystals should also be considered suspicious.
  • Compromised packaging. Medication that comes in the original manufacturer packaging should be sealed. If it's open, appears tampered with, or just doesn't look right, it’s worth checking with the pharmacist.

Notes to editors

  • Joanne Jakymec is the Chief Crown Prosecutor for the CPS Serious Economic Organised and International Directorate (SEOCID)
  • This case was a joint legal prosecution by the SEOCID directorate and Wessex area of the CPS. Adrian Flasher, Specialist Prosecutor for SEOCID, and Tammy Mears, Specialist Prosecutor for Wessex, were two key prosecutors reviewing the evidence against the defendants and bringing it to court
  • Marc James Ward (DOB: 20/10/1986) pleaded guilty to eight counts of supplying and selling drugs and two counts of associated money laundering offences was sentenced to five years' imprisonment
  • Christopher James Kirby (DOB: 12/09/1987) pleaded guilty to five counts of supplying drugs and one count of a money laundering related offence and sentenced to 9 years and six months' imprisonment
  • Thomas Russell Durden (DOB: 7/10/1986) pleaded guilty to two counts of supplying drugs as well two counts of money laundering offences was sentenced to six years and five months' imprisonment

Further reading

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