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How Feds Discovered A Drug Dealer’s IP Address Using The Postal Service Package Tracking System

May 18, 2015  |  Posted by: JammedUp Staff
How Feds Discovered A Drug Dealer’s IP Address Using The Postal Service Package Tracking System

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According to the website Ars, a federal drug investigation reveals how the United States Postal Service’s (USPS) law enforcement unit can use IP logs on the postal tracking website to investigate crimes.

The case stems from an ongoing drug investigation in Rockland, Massachusetts, involving an alleged drug dealer named Harold Bates. According to a 2013 affidavit, Law enforcement officials managed to track down Bates by the digital trail his IP address left on the USPS’ Track n’ Confirm website.

Feds charged Bates in March 2014 with an array of drug charges including conspiracy to import methylone (or known as “Molly”), importation of methylone, and possession with intent to distribute methylone.

Bates filed a motion to have the packages seized by the Feds suppressed. However, the judge hearing the case ruled against the Bates’ court filing.

In judge’s decision, he wrote that the law enforcement unit discovered 500 grams of methylone in a package delivered to an address in Hollywood, Florida. The revelation written in the Judge’s Memorandum suggests that investigators first discovered the suspicious package and checked the IP logs to see if someone had searched for tracking information. When the IP address matched that of Bates, they could have also checked if Bates searched for additional packages.

However, the affidavit suggests that the United States Postal Inspector General Stephen Dowd implied the link happened in a more computerized pattern.

“The USPS database reflected that an individual using a computer or other device with IP address accessed the USPS Track ‘n Confirm website to follow the progress of both the Florida Parcel and Bates Parcel #1,”Dowd wrote.

Neither the United States Postal Inspection Service (USPIS) nor Bates’ attorneys responded to Ars’ have not commented on the latest developments.

Ahmed Ghappour, who is a law professor at the University of California, Hastings, maintains he has never seen a case like this.

“What’s most bizarre about this, is the case was tipped off by an algorithm, a system that mines Track N’ Confirm user-data in order to detect suspicious activity, has triggered the investigation,” Ghappour told Ars in an interview.

He continued, “The Dowd affidavit is very clear that Postal Inspectors discovered a connection between packages delivered to Florida and Massachusetts before initiating contact and obtaining consent to search the Florida package.”

“The affidavit is not clear whether the mere act of tracking packages addressed to different cities was sufficient to trigger the investigation or whether other factors, such as foreign return address, came into play,” Ghappour added.

Packages Tracked From China

Additional details are provided as to how Bates became the subject of the investigation.

After the USPIS had matched IP addresses, they determined it belonged to a Comcast IP block. Investigators requested the subscriber data from Comcast. Agents found the IP address belonging to a Rockland, MAssachussetts resident named Matthew Dimaggio.

After digging deeper, the USPIS discovered Dimaggio was convicted of armed robbery and sentenced to prison back in September 2013. The USPIS then further examined the names the on postal mail being delivered to the Rockland address and discovered it was sent to Bates.

Dowd continued in his affidavit:

I have verified through a USPS letter carrier that Bates regularly received mail at the Bates Residence for at least the past six months through the present.

I also reviewed records maintained by the Rockland Post Office and determined that five prior Express Mail parcels from either China or Hong Kong had arrived addressed to Bates at the Residence on October 21, 2013.

For three of those packages, Bates had called ahead to the post office and arranged to come pick them up in person rather than wait for them to be delivered. So Dowd and his colleagues anticipated that he might do this again.

On November 13, 2013, Bates Parcel #1 arrived at the Rockland post office, and Dowd arranged for a controlled delivery—he secretly watched Bates enter the building and pick it up.

Once delivered, Bates would pick up his packages, paying for a $50 postal scale with cash. Bates along with a woman then drove to East Water Street in Rockland. At that point, Massachusetts State Police (MSP) were already surveilling his residence.

The Police viewed Bates put two large white plastic garbage bags in a dumpster behind his building. After Bates and the woman had driven away, the Police went into the trash and inspected the contents in the bags.

Investigators discovered an array of evidence suggesting that Bates received packages from China. The USPIS waited for additional packages to arrive, linked to the same Comcast IP addresses. In December 2013, the two parcels arrived from China had arrived, tracked to the same Comcast IP address. Tracking updates were sent to the e-mail address listed with the package tracking.

Dowd alerted the nearby Braintree Police Department and requested a drug-sniffing dog, named “Lucky.”

Dowd continued his account:

I traveled with the two parcels to the USPS facility in Braintree, Massachusetts, where I placed the Parcel #2 and Parcel #3 at different ends of a large loading dock. I also put six other innocent parcels among the two suspect packages as controls.

Officer Seibert advised that upon reaching Parcel #2 and Parcel #3, “Lucky” reacted in a positive manner for the scent of controlled substances. We observed No further indications in the search area. Based on my training and experience, I know that an active alert means that the parcels contain narcotics or were recently in proximity to narcotics.

Dowd “assumed the role of letter carrier” and delivered the packages to a woman named Julie Carlozzi at two different addresses on Maple Street, located a half mile away from Bates’ East Water Street residence.

However, after Carlozzi didn’t respond, Dowd left a missed delivery notice. A short time later Carlozzi contacted the post office and notified them she would pick them up in person.

After she had dropped in for the packages, undercover officers began trailing Carlozzi to a nearby Rite Aid Bates waited. The police witnessed Bates take the shipment from her and place them in his car.

The authorities had enough evidence to receive a sealed warrant to search the suspicious packages and the home of Bates. The USPIS conducted one more controlled delivery of two more packages for Carlozzi.

Carlozzi picked up her special mail the next day and went to the same Rite Aid, to meet Bates. Although the surveillance team lost Carlozzi’s tail, another group kept on Bates. After he stopped for gas law enforcement agents arrested him.

Officers took Bates to the Rockland Police Department and questioned him. Bates waived his Miranda Rights and explained to interrogators how he “received an e-mail from an individual from China” and started ordering Molly from that person; paying for it with wire transfers using Western Union.

Bates gave investigators consent to conduct a search of his laptop and iPhone and provided the officers with the passwords to his e-mail and Skype accounts.

Bates’ trial is set to begin in federal court in Boston on August 10, 2015.

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