Melbourne men plead guilty over dark web drug operation

Melbourne Dark Web case – Two men face deportation over their involvement in a dark web drug smuggling and trafficking enterprise after mailing out sales inside children’s toys.

Primary school friends Steen McBeth and Jackson Li, both 28, were arrested in October 2017 after an Australian Federal Police investigation, with the help of the FBI, uncovered an international multimillion-dollar importation operation paid for with bitcoin.

Melbourne Dark Web
Drugs seized by AFP during 2017 operation | AFP

On Wednesday the County Court heard details of their alleged involvement for the first time after the pair came to the attention of federal police during Operation Crozet in February 2017. The two New Zealand-born men face likely deportation.

Crown prosecutor Andrew Buckland said between March and September 2017 AFP intercepted 123 international packages and Australia Post a further 14, all which contained illicit drugs linked to the illegal operation.

Inside were 1.8 kilograms of cocaine, 5.4 kilograms of MDA and 886 grams of ketamine, bound for 23 different post office boxes and parcel lockers in the Melbourne area, many which had been set up using other people’s driver’s licences.

Police soon learned that Mr Li had rented a two-bedroom unit on Rowell Drive in Mernda for the criminal organisation to store and package illicit drugs.

There, on multiple occasions, the two men were seen coming and going from the property carrying black duffle bags.

During the same time Mr McBeth was seen visiting the Epping post office on High Street and the Westfield Plenty Valley shopping centre at Mill Park.

On August 31, he was also seen purchasing a trolley load of toys from Target and a trolley full of pillows and cushions from Kmart at the Westfield centre. Police said those items were used as a “cover load” to conceal drugs posted in the mail.

While under surveillance, Mr Li was seen visiting the Wood Street post office at Thomastown and another at Bundoora.

In total police said the drug operation used 25 separate post office boxes and parcel lockers across Melbourne all registered using 15 different names.

On October 27, 2017, police raided the pair’s homes at Dalziel Drive in Mernda and Barkers Road in Kew, seizing various items including a black 2011 Lamborghini Gallardo, cash-counting machines, more than $159,000 in cash and printed labels marked ‘Maurice Blackburn Lawyers’.

In total, the pure net weight of all drugs seized as part of Operation Crozet amounted to 30.93 kilograms. This included 1,4 butanediol; methamphetamine; cocaine; MDA; MDMA; heroin and ketamine.

Small amounts of cannabis and testosterone were also seized as part of the federal police operation.

Crown prosecutor Andrew Buckland said while most of the drug importations and trafficking transactions were made using bitcoin, some money was then transferred into Australian currency and withdrawn as cash.

“The importation and trafficking were facilitated online via the ‘DarkWeb’ which comprises websites which exist on an encrypted network and cannot be located using standard search engines or internet browsers,” Mr Buckland said.

Mr McBeth and Mr Li both pleaded guilty to a number of charges in the County Court on Wednesday.

McBeth’s charges include importing a commercial quantity of a border-controlled drug, and trafficking a commercial quantity of both a drug of dependence and a border-controlled drug between February 6 and October 9, 2017.

Drugs seized by AFP during 2017 operation | AFP

Mr Li has been charged with trafficking a commercial quantity of both a drug of dependence and a border-controlled drug.

The court heard both men are likely to be deported back to New Zealand after serving out likely jail terms.

Mr McBeth moved to Australia as a 21-year-old while Mr Li came to the country as a nine-year-old but neither ever gained citizenship.

Mr McBeth was supported in court on Wednesday by his parents who’d flown in from New Zealand while Mr Li’s girlfriend sat nearby.

Both are set to be sentenced on December 19.

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