Mistakes made early in career finally catch up to the well-known vendor.
One of the U.S.’s longest-running darknet vendors is being charged with conspiring to distribute a controlled substance, along with five co-conspirators. The charges are against James Barlow, known as TripWithScience on at least a dozen darknet markets, and are the result of a Homeland Security investigation which spans two and a half years.
Investigators allege that Barlow had been a darknet market vendor since 2011, completing over 15,000 transactions; the vast majority of which are sales of his defining product, “Liquid Mushrooms.”
(caption: TripWithScience product listing from 2015)
According to the court document, authorities began monitoring TripWithScience’s darknet market activities in 2019. As part of their investigation, they placed several orders for Liquid Mushrooms and in October 2020 managed to track down one of Barlow’s re-shippers, who was being paid $4,000 – $6,000 every two weeks to help meet order demand.
Investigators were also provided with a list of BTC addresses for withdrawals from TripWithScience’s vendor account, from a darknet market seized by law enforcement. Among these addresses was a Coinbase address which belonged to Barlow. In all, investigators found five instances between 2013 and 2014 in which Barlow sent Bitcoin directly to Coinbase from his vendor account – a mistake they note is common among darknet vendors in the early stages of their career.
The document alleges that Barlow was most recently active on the Monopoly, Televend and Cannahome darknet markets, though most sales were conducted on Dream, Empire and Silk Road 2.0.
In 2018, a lab analysis determined that the “liquid psilocybin” sold by TripWithScience was actually 4-AcO-DMT, a synthetic, lab-made product that produces effects similar to that of psilocybin. As with psilocybin, this chemical is a DEA Schedule I controlled substance, carrying similar penalties for distribution and possession.
Barlow has a history of donating to charitable causes. In May 2015, he donated $6,000 to Change Nepal, an earthquake relief group. Months later, he donated $1,000 to the medical aid group Medicins Sans Frontieres, after the accidental bombing of a hospital in Afghanistan. In a 2015 Reddit post in which he defends his decision to make the donation, Barlow laments the negative perceptions cast upon darknet market participants, arguing that they are actually “a net positive for society and the economy.”
“I truly believe that we are a collection of (relatively) law-abiding citizens safely exploring the limits of our consciousness, and the nature of these darknet markets eliminates or drastically reduces the crime that most people associate with drug culture,” wrote Barlow. “Just in case I fuck up my OPSEC and end up in jail, this might help my case.”