Joel Paul Prime, a 32-year-old Eyre Peninsula man, admitted “masterminding” a darknet drug trafficking operation from his family’s rural home. He pleaded guilty in early 2017 to the import and export of a border controlled drug. He later pleaded guilty to almost a dozen other state drug trafficking charges. Recent court documents revealed that the Australian Border Force caught Prime through the use of a post office box registered under his name.
Port Lincoln detectives worked with officers from the Australian Border Force to catch Prime. The investigation began in early 2016 when the Border Force allegedly received a tip that someone had been sending drugs in the mail inside of DVD and CD cases. Investigators seized packages on a routine basis, following a tip in June. Officials reported seizing several at the Port Neill post office. At least one of the packages came from Poland, officials said.
Emily Brown, one of the prosecutors at a District Court in Adelaide, told the court that the 32-year-old had managed a “sophisticated” operation. She stressed, as did several law enforcement officers, that the drugs Prime imported would not likely have been in Australia if not for the darknet. “Some of these substances are quite rare and they haven’t been found in South Australia, or not often found (here),” Brown said. Serious and Organised Crime branch head David Hunt wrote, in an affidavit, that “due to the emergence of the internet including the ‘darknet’, the number of substances being consumed in South Australia has greatly increased.”
In September 2016, the investigators caught up with Prime. Australian Border Force and South Australia Police officers raided the Prime family home, where Joel lived with his parents. They discovered an “amphetamine type substance” measured in 910 doses. 380 LSD tabs, 72 MDMA pills, and 15 grams of crystal or powder MDMA. Officers also found packing material, drug testing equipment, and other assorted pieces of drug paraphernalia. The authorities announced they had additionally found various uncatalogued drugs and drug material used in the manufacture of illegal drugs.
Prime received state and federal charges. He pleaded guilty, in May 2017, to the federal charge: one count of importing / exporting a border controlled drug. SA police also charged him with 14 counts of trafficking a controlled substance. At the hearing, state prosecutors dropped three drug trafficking charges. Prime pleaded guilty to the 11 remaining charges. He admitted that he used Bitcoin to buy and resell hundreds of pills, several grams of ketamine, various psychedelics, and hundreds of LSD tabs.
The defense attorney, Mark Semmens, said that his client should not receive any jail time for the crimes, even though the court emphasized how severe the charges were. He said that his client had recently broken up with his significant other and that Prime was in “a rather chaotic state.” Semmens argued that incarceration would be cruel to the 32-year-old’s parents.
Judge Rauf Soulio ruled to sentence Prime in March.
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