'We were more Spongebob than Mr Asia'

From his Morrinsville home, Daniel Marsom, 18, accessed an "anonymous marketplace" website to shop for drugs with his mate Symon Cook, 19.

Last year the Wintec students found a single click could bring 50 ecstasy tablets to their doorstep, which they could sell to their mates for five times what they paid.

“It was way too easy,” Cook said. “That's why it got so huge.”

The pair were a new breed of drug dealer. No dark alley or nightclub, just a computer screen in a bedroom.

Customs is fighting a battle against online dealers who, at the click of a button, can have packages containing a range of drugs delivered to the door from overseas.

Figures show Class-A drug seizures are on the rise, with more finds so far this year than in all of 2011. “Anonymous marketplace” websites, where you can buy drugs with alternative currency, litter the internet.

“We're not talking about people who have grown up shoplifting and doing burglaries, there is a different kind of person coming into the market,” Customs drug investigations head Mark Day said.

The security of the sites, and the use of a digital currency known as "Bitcoins", mean buyers are all but untraceable until the drugs arrive, just as they were after Cook ordered. But he heard footsteps and saw armed police and Customs officers arriving too.

Over the previous five weeks, Customs had intercepted eight packages containing 181 ecstasy tablets, 1.1 grams of the psychedelic drug 2C-B, and two grams of heroin. All of the packages were destined for the house where Cook lived with his family.

It became clear that was the tip of the iceberg when Customs found 61 empty packages in his room.

Cook admitted he and Marsom used a website to import drugs, which they used themselves and sold on to friends. He told officers that over the last six months of 2011 he had received about 50 packages containing on average 20 MDMA tablets. With their mark-up, they had made about $40,000.

At the end of last month, Judge David Ruth sentenced them both to 300 hours of community work and a year's home detention - the maximum he could impose.

Ruth said the offending was more than just a one-off “computer geek” experience, but he was satisfied they had been scared straight by the prospect of prison.

Marsom - who Ruth described as “academically gifted” - said the real punishment was the conviction and the restrictions it might place on his future.

He said the offending had spiralled out of control and was done to increase their popularity, rather than for financial gain. “It's not like Mr Asia, we were more like Spongebob and Patrick,” he said.

Their naivety was their downfall, but he had a sobering message for Customs. “This is happening all over New Zealand a lot. Customs aren't able to stop it. Bitcoins and the website are secure and untraceable, but what's not are telephones and texts - and that's how we got caught.”

Auckland police drugs officer, Detective Senior Sergeant Chris Cahill, said the new dealers were mainly younger professionals or students who focused on importing drugs known as "bath salts" or "analogues", which appeared to be taking the place of ecstasy. But eventually gangs took notice, he said, and they resented dealers on their turf. “If you lie down with dogs you wake up with fleas.”

Customs examines an average of about 5000 to 7000 international mail items a month.

Sunday Star Times