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Feds: Charleston-area man imported large amounts of fentanyl, then shipped drug nationwide

March 2, 2017 GMT

A Charleston-area man used encrypted web channels to get large amounts of potent drugs from Asia and Europe, then mailed orders to American customers, federal authorities said in court documents made public Wednesday.

Robert Bryan Mansfield, 60, of Pinewood Street in Ladson faces charges of conspiring to possess fentanyl with intent to distribute and conspiring to distribute the drug, a painkiller considered many times more potent than morphine. He appeared Wednesday in U.S. District Court in Charleston and is scheduled to have a preliminary hearing Friday.

Mansfield’s attorney, Dale Savage of Mount Pleasant, said Wednesday that he could not immediately comment on the case. Assistant U.S. Attorney Nick Bianchi is prosecuting Mansfield.

He was captured amid a Department of Homeland Security probe into an international drug-smuggling operation. Local police agencies, including sheriff’s offices in Charleston and Dorchester counties, later got involved.

After his arrest, he told federal investigators how it worked, and the agents relayed portions of his account in an affidavit:

He used encrypted networks known as the “dark web” and anonymous Tor browsers to reach partners in China and Hong Kong. The drugs came via air courier from those countries, along with the Netherlands, Spain and Germany.

Between March 2016 and last month, nearly 7 pounds of fentanyl was sent to him.

His apartment housed a redistribution operation. Customers paid him through the virtual Bitcoin currency or Paypal. He then packed the drug and sent it away through the U.S. Postal Service.

One of his incoming shipments led to the effort’s demise, a Charleston-based federal agent wrote in the affidavit, further describing how it played out:

The agent’s New York counterparts responded Feb. 2 after more than 2 pounds of fentanyl was found in a shipping bag seized at John F. Kennedy International Airport’s airmail facility. The drug was packed in a zipped plastic bag that was inside an airtight aluminum bag wrapped in bubble packaging.

The package had been sent from Hong Kong.

Local agents kept their eyes on Mansfield after that. One day last month, they watched him go to a Ladson post office and drop off a bag of mail. They intercepted the shipment of 12 packages that contained what appeared to be various drugs.

Authorities then searched his apartment on Friday, uncovering a large amount of narcotics, paraphernalia, scales, computers and shipping supplies. The loot included 3½ ounces of fentanyl, prompting a response from a hazardous-materials team and the evacuation of nearby homes.