Beard-obsessed Frenchman faces 'Oxymonster' drug charges

by Leila MACOR
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By day, out in the open, Gal Vallerius was just a French guy so proud of his copious red facial hair that he competed in international beard and mustache competitions.

But on the murky, anything-goes corner of the internet called the dark web, he was known as "OxyMonster" and sold drugs, payable in bitcoin.

That, at least, is the account of prosecutors in Miami, where Vallerius has been under arrest since last year.

He is accused of trafficking drugs including cocaine, crack, fentanyl, methamphetamine, LSD, Ritalin and oxycodone on Dream Market, a sort of e-Bay on the dark underbelly of the internet.

Vallerius, who is 39, is reportedly expected to plead guilty Tuesday after reaching a plea deal that will spare him from life in prison.

His attorney, Anthony Natale, refused to confirm or deny that report, first published in the Miami Herald. Prosecutors declined to comment.

But court documents show Vallerius is in fact due in court Tuesday.

Vallerius, 38, was arrested last August during a layover in Atlanta on his way to Austin, Texas to take part in the World Beard and Mustache Championships (WBMC). He was registered in the "full beard 30.1-45 cm" (12 to 18 inches) category.

But now only his fellow inmates are able to witness all that growth.

The FBI and other law enforcement agencies had been monitoring Vallerius for months and were waiting when he and his wife Yasmin got off the plane from France.

Indeed, that long beard made it easy to pick him out among the crowd of arriving travelers.

"On his laptop was the TOR browser, apparent log-in credentials for Dream Market, $500,000 worth of bitcoin, and a PGP encryption key entitled 'OxyMonster' which matched that advertised as 'OxyMonster's' on Dream Market," says the sworn statement of an agent of the US Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA).

Natale asked the court to strike the evidence obtained from the laptop, and from the Frenchman's iPhone and iPad.

The attorney argued that Vallerius was high when he arrived in Atlanta and agents asked to search his computer, so the search was not valid. But his motion was denied.

In April, prosecutors added a new charge: money laundering, for transactions between 2013 and 2017.

- Cheers!! -

In 2015, Vallerius finished eighth in an international facial hair competition in Austria.

He boasted of this in the profile of his Instagram account, which has since been deleted, along with that of his wife.

Video from that contest shows Vallerius smiling and joking with other competitors.

But the results from that year's WBMC competition have vanished from its website.

M.J. Johnson, a Minneapolis man who competed in last year's championship, said he remembered Vallerius as a "fun, carefree person."

"I don?t know anything about what other stuff he did. But as far as his beard goes, it?s really awesome, long and bright red," Johnson told AFP.

Since February 2016, US investigators have identified several narcotics dealers on Dream Market and, operating under cover, had drugs sent to them in exchange for bitcoin.

That is how they found a so-called "senior moderator" on Dream Market using the name "OxyMonster," who ran the website and sold drugs from France.

Analyzing bitcoin transactions, authorities linked "OxyMonster" to Vallerius.

Then, comparing the writing style of "Oxymonster" with that seen in Vallerius's Instagram and Twitter accounts, experts found similarities and concluded they were from the same man.

For instance, he would say goodbye with a friendly "cheers" followed by two exclamation points, and sometimes offered comments in French.

Frenchman Gal Vallerius, known online by his moniker "OxyMonster," is accused of trafficking drugs including oxycodone pills payable in bitcoin on Dream Market, a sort of e-Bay on the dark web