2023 Safety, Security and International Affairs

Joshua C. Mellor, Nicholas I. Cheviron, Stephanie Stevens and Operation Trojan Shield

Conceived and led a unique worldwide investigation using information from a government-controlled encrypted messaging service that resulted in the arrest of more than a thousand drug traffickers and members of organized crime syndicates.

Criminals around the world began texting each other about drug deals, money laundering and a host of other crimes in 2019 on devices they unknowingly promoted and believed were encrypted but were actually legally monitored by the FBI and the U.S. Attorney’s Office in San Diego. 

On June 7, 2021, more than 10,000 law enforcement authorities in Australia, New Zealand and a dozen European countries conducted the largest organized crime sting in history, based on information contained in those text messages, leading to more than a thousand arrests of drug distributors and members of violent transnational criminal organizations. 

Dubbed Operation Trojan Shield, this massive takedown was orchestrated by a law enforcement team led by Assistant U.S. Attorney Joshua Mellor and FBI Special Agents Nicholas Cheviron and Stephanie Stevens. 

“Josh Mellor and the FBI team were the driving force behind this operation,” said Cindy Cipriani, the executive assistant U.S. Attorney in San Diego. “It was ingenious from start to finish.” 

U.S. Attorney Randy Grossman in San Diego described the international sting led by Mellor, Cheviron and Stevens as “an unprecedented operation in terms of its massive scale” and “an innovative strategy and a major technological and investigative achievement.” 

FBI hoodwinked criminals into using its encryption service   

After a Canadian-based encryption company and its principals were indicted in 2018 in San Diego and similar firms were dismantled by law enforcement in Europe, the FBI filled the void by creating its own encryption service called ANOM. 

Working surreptitiously with criminal elements, ANOM sold more than 12,000 devices to about 300 criminal syndicates in more than 100 countries, including Italian organized crime, outlaw motorcycle gangs and drug trafficking organizations. 

The FBI team, with assistance from international partners, collected more than 27 million messages from the devices, in 45 languages, providing the evidence that led to the 1,000 arrests, the destruction of 50 clandestine drug labs and the seizure of huge amounts of cocaine, methamphetamine and heroin, along with $58 million in cash and cryptocurrency.  

Alexandra Foster, the chief of the criminal division in San Diego, said “drug distribution and organized crime activities are international in scope and can come to U.S. shores, and it made sense for us to continue the investigation and work with counterparts overseas to build strong working relationships.” 

In addition to the arrests, a federal grand jury in San Diego brought racketeering indictments against 17 distributors of the ANOM devices who were located outside the United States. Extradition proceedings are pending against a number of those defendants. 

San Diego team coordinated the massive sting 

Mellor was central to the investigation, working with the FBI to establish the texting device platform, make sure all legal issues were addressed and help develop strategies for the raids. 

“Josh and his colleagues were overseeing the whole operation and coordinating with prosecutors in Europe and Australia,” Foster said. “He ensured everything could be done legally.”  

FBI Supervisory Special Agent Brett Kalina said Cheviron and Stevens “created, managed and controlled the undercover business of distributing the devices used by the criminals across the globe,” and oversaw the collection of the information.  

FBI Assistant Special Agent in Charge Jamie Arnold added that Cheviron and Stevens “lived and breathed the case for several years, playing instrumental roles in developing the concept for the operation and its execution.” 

Mellor said the investigation brought together law enforcement agencies from different countries that previously did not have working relationships. “It was really unprecedented and established a model for future investigations,” Mellor said. 

Stevens, who with Cheviron spent time in Europe to coordinate the complex operation, said the investigation was an amazing experience personally and professionally. 

“It was incredible to watch the law enforcement operation unfold on the day of the raids,” Stevens said. “I am proud to have been a part of it and passionate about what we did.”