James Jordan Winstanley, a 22-year-old Wellington man, recently received a sentence for his role in the Vic Underworld website. He, like many other vendors at the time, caught charges while global law enforcement conducted Operation Hyperion. His case stood out for several reasons, according to Judge Bill Hastings. The most striking detail came from the semi-exclusive method Winstanley used when advertising Vic Underworld.
We wrote about Vic Underworld in 2015 when it stood out to DeepDotWeb for an antagonistic Facebook page under the name “NZ Underworld.” The Facebook page explained, first and foremost, what the Vic Underworld was. And it was, the page explained, a frontpage to an onion marketplace under the same name. “NZ Underworld is an anonymous trading platform, but we also have a strong political aim to drive the legalization and decriminalization of drugs within New Zealand,” the Facebook page’s mission statement vocalized.
Judge Bill Hastings of Wellington District Court said that Winstanley set up three Vic Underworld Facebook pages—simply because Facebook took down the first page. “This showed defiance and persistence,” the judge said. “You are an intelligent young person with mad computer skills who also has certain social deficits which you have taken significant steps to overcome,” he told the 22-year-old.
Although he pleaded guilty to three distribution charges: offering to supply MDMA, codeine, and cannabis, he claimed he never sold any drugs. Police, when they searched his home, find no evidence of any drug distribution. In the same node, they found no sign of any drugs whatsoever, even in personal quantities.
James Elliott, Winstanley’s lawyer, argued that his client suffered from clear social deficits—ones that prevented him from buying drugs elsewhere. He had “no formal diagnosis of autism,” the judge noted. Judge Hastings agreed with the fact that the defendant suffered in some way. This so-called “social deficit” prevented the Wellington man with “mad computer skills” from using anything outside of his computer skills to obtain drugs, his lawyer argued.
He even commented on the site with his own alternate identities, the lawyer said. He needed the site to grow in popularity. Thanks to the media and likely the mere existence of a Facebook page, the Vic Underground website caught on. “[The site] started in June, and originally was known as Vic Underworld…it now has a base of more than 150 members and boasting a join rate of around 3 new users per day according to local media reports,” DeepDotWeb wrote in 2015. It did, however, maintain a very strict policy with regard to membership.
The Facebook page explained that new members went through an approval process. Veteran members interviewed newcomers to determine their worthiness as site members. The site grew large enough and eventually caught the eye of law enforcement—in Operation Hyperion, nonetheless.
Judge Bill Hastings told the young man that he made a “stupid mistake when he set up the website.” But, also that he had come to his “day of reckoning“ where a punishment of four months of community detention and six months of supervision seemed appropriate.