Justice Department announces arrests in darknet drug case – Los Angeles Times

WASHINGTON — 

Justice Department officials announced on Tuesday the arrests of 150 people and the seizure of more than $30 million in an international investigation targeting drug trafficking on the darknet.

Operation Dark HunTor found these alleged criminals engaged in “tens of thousands of sales of illicit goods and services” and led to 65 arrests in the United States, three in France, 47 in Germany and 24 in the United Kingdomofficials said. A number of investigations are still ongoing.

In addition to seizing $31 million in cash and digital currency, investigators also seized 45 handguns, Justice Department officials said.

“Since the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic, more people have turned to the darknet than ever before to buy drugs,” said Deputy Atty. Gen. Lisa Monaco.

Drug overdose deaths spiked by 30% last year, according to federal statistics. Over 90,000 drug overdose deaths occurred in 2020, a record high; 70,000 deaths were predicted in 2019.

Monaco told reporters the investigators focused particular attention on darknet vendors who were minting counterfeit pills that contained potentially fatal doses of fentanyl, methamphetamines and other illegal drugs.

The operation “prevented countless lives from being lost to this dangerous trade in illicit and counterfeit drugs because one pill can kill,” Monaco said.

The international effort resulted in dozens of federal operations and prosecutions across the nation including in Sacramento, California.

On Oct. 21, a federal grand jury indicted Jonathan Patrick Turrentine, a 39-year-old Sacramento resident, for 11 counts of distributing controlled substances and one count of possession with intent to distribute and money laundering, respectively, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office of the Eastern District of California.

Investigators first became aware of the Turrentine in November 2018 when a drug dog in a Sacramento-area post office alerted authorities about a package addressed to him. Turrentine, who was then on probation for wrongly obtaining data, money or property on a computer network, denied any wrongdoing.

Federal prosecutors allege Turrentine has since then run an extensive drug trafficking on the dark web under different aliases, including “Mushmike1776,” “DatCubensisBoy” and “CaliPlugMike.”

Turrentine popped up on the radar of law enforcement in Orange County in December 2019 when his alias,”CaliPlugMike,” appeared on the computer of an 18-year-old who is said to have died by suicide after buying fake Xanax on the darknet.

Investigators in Orange County, San Diego and Sacramento expanded their investigation and found that CaliPlugMike ran his operation on Empire Marketplace and was treasured by his customers, 900 of whom shared positive customer feedback on ‘Empire Marketplace’ as of April 2020.

Federal agents posed as Empire Marketplace customers and purchased illegal drugs, fake pills and a list of 1.4 billion email addresses and passwords for $1 in bitcoin or another cryptocurrency that’s hard to trace. Prosecutors allege that Turrentine’s page described the email list as having been compiled for over 100 breaches and said that “most people have changed their email password but most people use the same password across multiple sites.”

Federal agents used post office camera footage to confirm Turrentine mailed the shipments of the drugs and paid for postage at self-serve kiosks with a debit card. Turrentine’s financial records indicate money on his debit card came from a United Kingdom-based cryptocurrency exchange, according to prosecutors.

Feedback on CaliPlugMike’s Empire Marketplace page, however, began to sour, in April 2020 when customers complained they never received products they paid for. Turrentine soon changed his vendor information on his page to one word: “GOODBYE,” according to prosecutors.

Turrentine, then, allegedly reappeared months later under the vendor name “DatCubensisBoy” and undercover agents placed orders for psychedelic mushroom spores.

On Sept. 27, agents searched Turrentine’s residence and found a “psychedelic mushroom cultivation operation” and processed mushrooms in the same packaging he previously used to mail products. Agents confirmed on his computer that he was actively operating vendor sites on the darknet under the moniker “Fantasticfungi.” Agents also confirmed that he operated under the aliases “DatCubensisBoy,” “CaliPlugMike” and other monikers.

Turrentine faces four decades in federal prison and tens of millions in fines if convicted on all charges.

Attorney’s listed for Turrentine did not respond to a request for comment.