The Time Is Now

Support local, independent reporting.

Help the city we love by joining Friends of Willamette Week.

JOIN NOW

Feds Offer Portland Police $400,000 to Investigate the “Dark Web” and COVID-19 Fraudsters

“This grant provides our White Collar Crimes Unit with the necessary resources to help stop counterfeit goods from reaching Portland marketplaces,” says Mayor Ted Wheeler.

The federal government has awarded the Portland Police Bureau a $400,000 grant to anonymously surf the dark web and make undercover purchases so it can investigate and prosecute intellectual property crimes like economic espionage and large-scale counterfeiting and piracy—specifically those that relate to public health and safety.

On Dec. 8, the Portland City Council will vote whether to accept the grant, awarded by the U.S. Department of Justice through its Intellectual Property Enforcement Program.

If approved, $220,797 of the grant would be allocated to the Police Bureau’s White Collar Crimes Unit for the first year of the two-year program. The remainder would roll over to the next fiscal year. (PPB has received grant money through this DOJ program before.)

The grant shows that federal officials are still working closely with Portland-area law enforcement and the Multnomah County District Attorney’s Office after relationships frayed in 2020 in the wake of racial justice protests.

Mayor Ted Wheeler, who oversees the Police Bureau, has flagged the agenda item as an “emergency ordinance.” That’s because the city has a 45-day window to accept the money, according to his office.

“This grant provides our White Collar Crimes Unit with the necessary resources to help stop counterfeit goods from reaching Portland marketplaces,” Wheeler tells WW. “In addition to providing financial resources, this program creates tools to educate our community about intellectual property crimes.”

In budget documents reviewed by WW, the city pointed to successful online fraud investigations that the task force participated in recently, including that of a Hillsboro auto repair shop that purchased counterfeit airbags connected to a larger faulty airbag operation in Bulgaria; a Happy Valley business that bought counterfeit gun accessories from China and sold them online; and an ongoing investigation by Portland police and the Houston Police Department “related to transnational counterfeit N95 masks being sold to first responders in the U.S.”

Budget documents say the funding will be used to “aggressively target, investigate, and prosecute individuals and or/criminal organizations” that commit state and federal intellectual property crimes. The task force will employ “various investigative techniques, including internet investigation of e-commerce websites (eBay, Amazon), classified ad websites (e.g., Craigslist, OfferUp, etc.), social media sites, and the dark web to identify individuals and organizations trafficking in [intellectual property crime] products,” say budget documents.

The bulk of the money will finance the salaries of task force members and outside consultants: About 40% of the funds will go toward overtime costs of 10 Portland police officers assigned to the task force, and more than a third of the funding will be paid out in consulting fees to employees from five local law enforcement agencies that are also members of the task force.

HOW THE POLICE BUREAU PLANS TO SPEND THE MONEY:

  • A $24,700 contract with the company Authentic8 for its website creation and hosting services, as well as licenses and a “dark web tool” for Authentic8′s cloud browser Silo, which enables anonymous web searches. The six Silo licenses will allow the task force to conduct “discreet investigations,” according to budget documents: “The internet creates an easy method for independent online websites to sell counterfeit goods. Silo will allow investigators to access those sites without being identified as law enforcement.”
  • About $170,000 for overtime costs of the 10 Police Bureau employees on the task force, comprising one supervisory sergeant, six detectives and three officers. “The overtime allows for grant program work in addition to the program staff’s daily workload,” budget documents say.
  • About $150,000 in consulting fees for five local partner agencies: Beaverton Police Department Woodburn Police Department Washington County Sheriff’s Office Washington County District Attorney’s Office Multnomah County District Attorney’s Office
  • About $25,000 to cover travel expenses to intellectual property crime-related training and conferences in: Los Angeles Orlando, Fla. Arlington, Va.
  • About $4,500 in membership dues for intellectual property crime investigation organizations.