The FBI agent thought quickly, avoided eye contact with Katz and walked directly from him to the door. Within seconds of Katz crossing the room, in what appears to be slow motion, a thought flashes through Raben’s mind: How does Katz know who they are? Or are they following him? Or which hotel in Bangkok are they staying at? Are there leaks? Are they driving too conspicuously and screwing up their operational safety? Is this criminal mastermind smarter than them?
Just for a moment, Rabenn expected Cazes to be sitting at the table next to them, with a smug look on his face, and as he imagined, “Fuck you, I know you’re here, you’re not getting anything.”
Raben realized he didn’t know how he would respond. They could arrest Cazes on the spot, but they would lose all hope of getting his laptop or any hard evidence that he controlled AlphaBay. Just when they were about to win, their plan seemed to fail.
“Oh, damn,” Raben concluded silently, in a state of dazed panic. “This matter is over.”
Then, when Cazes was about five feet from their table, he turned and sat at the table next to them, across from a pair of Israeli businessmen in suits and yarmulkes.
Americans looked at each other. Moments later, the FBI agent came back and sat down casually. He and Miller began silently signaling to the rest of the table that everyone else should leave.
Raben regained his composure and let a thought pass through his mind, perhaps all was not lost—the most astonishing coincidence of his life.
Prosecutors did their best to leave as naturally as possible, walking up the curved stairs to the hotel’s mezzanine, while FBI agents and Miller overheard Katz’s conversation at the next table. On the floor above, both Raben and Hermisas were wide-eyed and relieved. Text messages from the FBI and DEA agents still at the table began to come in, reporting on Cazes’ meeting: He was talking to Israelis about a real estate investment deal he made in the Caribbean.
When their panic subsided, they now see a group of Thai undercover police officers – including the captain, Colonel Pisal Erb-Arb, in plain clothes – already stationed around another table opposite the Cazes hotel lounge, watching cautiously He even sneaked a photo of each other, capturing Cazes in the background. AlphaBay’s founders saw no sign of them.
Just as Raben and Hemisat were silently rejoicing, an FBI agent joined them on the mezzanine and pulled out his phone. He started Googling, trying to calculate the odds of what had just happened. How many hotels are there in Bangkok? He quickly showed them the answer: thousands.
The two prosecutors marvel in ecstatic trance at their bizarre near-collision — but not for long. Two days later, they knew their team would face Cazes again, this time in the most elaborate arrest they’d ever attempted.
Continue next week: The day of the ban has come. Operation Bayonet reached its dynamic climax. Then the case took a tragic turn.
This story is taken from the book Trackers in the Dark: Global Hunt for Crypto Crime Lords, Available now from Doubleday.
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Chapter Illustration: Raimondo Perez III
Image credit: Getty Images
This article was published in the December 2022/January 2023 issue. Subscribe now.
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