The Hunt for the Dark Web’s Biggest Kingpin, Part 4: Face to Face

The FBI agent thought quickly, avoided eye contact with Cazes, and walked right past him to the door. In the seconds it took Cazes to walk across the room, seemingly in slow motion, thoughts raced through Rabenn’s mind: How did Cazes know who they were? Or that they were on his trail? Or in which hotel they stayed in Bangkok? Was there a leak? Had they met too conspicuously and blown up their opsec? Had this criminal mastermind outsmarted them?

In a few moments, Rabenn expected Cazes to sit next to them at their table, with a smug expression on his face, and say, as he imagined it, “Fuck you guys, I know you’re here, and you’re not going to get something.”

Rabenn realized he had no idea how he would react. They could arrest Cazes on the spot, but they would lose all hope of accessing his laptop or any evidence of his control of AlphaBay. Just as they were on the verge of victory, it seemed that their plan had failed.

“Oh shit,” Rabenn concluded silently, in a state of blank panic. “This thing is over.”

When Cazes was about five feet from their table, he turned and sat down at the table next to them, facing some Israeli businessmen in suits and skullcaps.

The Americans looked at each other confused. Moments later, the FBI agent returned and casually sat down. He and Miller silently signaled to the rest of the table that everyone else should leave.

Rabenn, regaining his composure, let the thought run through his mind that perhaps all was not lost—that this was simply the most stunning coincidence of his life.

Trying to act naturally, the prosecutors climbed the curving stairs to the hotel’s mezzanine floor, while the FBI agent and Miller leaned back to overhear Cazes’ conversation at the adjacent table. On the floor above, Rabenn and Hemesath shared a moment of wide-eyed relief. Text messages from the FBI and DEA agents still sitting at the table began pouring in, reporting Cazes’ meeting: He spoke to the Israelis about one of his real estate investment deals in the Caribbean.

As their panic subsided, they now saw that a group of Thai undercover agents — including the team leader, Colonel Pisal Erb-Arb, in plain clothes — had gathered around another table across from Cazes’ hotel lounge and were discreetly watching him, even secretly photographing him. from each other that Cazes captured in the background. The founder of AlphaBay gave no sign of seeing them.

As Rabenn and Hemesath rejoiced in silence, the FBI agent joined them on the mezzanine floor and pulled out his phone. He started Googling and trying to calculate the probabilities of what had just happened. How many hotels were there actually in Bangkok? He quickly showed them the answer: there were thousands.

In a euphoric daze, the two prosecutors marveled at their bizarre near-collision, but not for long. In two days, they knew their team would meet Cazes again, this time in the most elaborate arrest they’d ever attempted.

Next week sequel: The day of the removal has arrived. Operation Bayonet reaches its kinetic climax. And then things take a tragic turn.

This story is from the book Tracers in the Dark: The Global Hunt for the Crime Lords of Cryptocurrency, now available at Doubleday.

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Chapter Illustrations: Reymundo Perez III

Photo Source: Getty Images

This article appears in the December 2022/January 2023 issue. Subscribe now.

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