A gang of men dubbed the ‘Breaking Bad students’ have been jailed for more than 50 years after being caught dealing huge amounts of drugs on the Dark Web.
The group included computer science, petrochemical engineering and pharmacology students at the University of Manchester.
26-year-old Elliot Hyams, Jaikishen Patel, Basil Assaf and 25-year-old James Roden were inspired by fictional meth kingpin Walter White from Breaking Bad, according to court notes from the trial.
Based at a flat in Manchester city centre, the four men took payments in untraceable Bitcoin from all over the world for ecstacy, powerful psychadelics LSD and 2CB and popular party drug ketamine.
Over the course of two and a half years from May 2011 to October 2013 the gang made millions.
Each took lavish holidays in Amsterdam, Jamaica and the Bahamas with their massive drug profits.
In March 2018 Manchester Crown Court heard that the operation dealt solely with buyers on the Dark Web, including the sale of nearly 17kg of liquid ecstacy valued at £750,000.
Go deeper: What is the Dark Web?
How were the Breaking Bad students caught?
The FBI tracked the gang over the course of two years with support from Britain’s top organised crime cops at the National Crime Agency.
Assaf and his gang set up shop on the notorious Silk Road, a shopping site modelled on Amazon and eBay that dealt in illegal or dangerous goods too hot for the surface web.
Who did what in the Breaking Bad gang?
Basil Assaf was considered the gang leader, controlling the money and making payments to his ‘staff’.
James Roden scoured Silk Road for drug deals, while junior member Joshua Morgan, was known as ‘the mule’, packaging up and shipping out drugs packets all over the globe.
Elliot Hyams and Jaikishen Patel were both heavily involved until they and Assaf fell out and were ‘sacked’. It was noted that Hyams made off with large amount of drugs as compensation. In a bitter text exchange Assaf told Hyams: “I won’t hesitate to ruin your life. Your mother will find out the truth.”
Under the brand-name Ivory they made over 6,000 sales to become one of Silk Road’s most successful businesses.
They posted out more than 1.2kg of 2CB and more than 1.4kg of ketamine, as well as bottled LSD and individual doses on paper, stamps and in sweets.
In October 2013 the FBI shut down the Silk Road and seized its servers.
When the FBI shared information with the National Crime Agency, armed officers took the Breaking Bad students by surprise, raiding the Manchester base of operations.
Officers found four sets of scales, heat sealing devices, envelopes and jiffy bags, label printers, £4,500 in cash and more than 11,000 individual doses of LSD.
56 years in jail
The five were sentenced at Manchester Crown Court on 21 March 2018. Assaf received 15 years and three months, Roden was given a 12 year sentence, Patel 11 years and two months, Hyams 11 years and three months and Morgan a sentence of 7 years and two months.
Ian Glover, senior operations manager at the NCA, said: “These five men were interested only in making money. They had no regard whatsoever for the harm these drugs could do to their users.
“The FBI’s excellent work shut the site down in 2013 in a globally significant operation and information they shared with us enabled us to identify, arrest and successfully build this case.
“Sites on the dark net represent a new variation on old crimes and are dealt with accordingly.
“The NCA has the capability and determination to bring offenders targeting the UK to justice regardless of how secure they feel hiding behind technology.”