A federal grand jury in Fresno indicted six people suspected of selling illegal drugs on the “dark web,” in which sales of drugs and contraband over the internet are meant to be untraceable by law enforcement.
It doesn’t always work that way.
The suspects, all from the greater Los Angeles area, allegedly distributed illegal drugs or conspired to do so in Fresno County, among other places, or aided and abetted the illegal activities, the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of California said Thursday.
Two suspects also are accused of laundering money in Fresno and Kern counties, the U.S. Attorney’s office said.
This is the second time this year that a dark web bust had a Fresno connection.
Last month, the Justice Department made an international splash when it announced it had taken down the Alpha Bay dark website, which officials described as being 10 times larger than the Silk Road site eradicated four years ago and involved hundreds of millions of dollars of illegal drugs and other contraband.
In that case, undercover agents bought marijuana that was mailed from Merced to Buffalo, and bought heroin that was mailed from Brooklyn to Fresno.
In the new case, two of the indicted were identified as William James Farber, also known as Bill Danzerian, 37, and Bryan Anthony Lemons, 29, both of Los Angeles. They were charged with conspiracy to possess and distribute controlled substances and conspiracy to launder money.
Also arrested were Richard Thomas Martinsen, 29, of Studio City, Michael Angelo Palma, 22, of Los Angeles, Michele Pickerell, 47, of Altadena, and Faysal Mustafa Alkhayat, 31, of Woodland Hills, who were charged with conspiracy to possess and distribute controlled substances.
Palma, Martinsen and others allegedly used Pickerell’s home to assemble an estimated 1,000 parcels of marijuana a week and mail them throughout the United States
Court documents allege Farber and the others, operating under the name PureFireMeds, sold marijuana, cocaine, oxycodone, hydrocodone, psilocybin, MDMA, LSD, Xanax and Ketamine on dark web marketplaces, including The Silk Road and Pandora.
After The Silk Road was shut down in 2013, Farber and the co-conspirators began operating under the name HumboldtFarms, one of the largest vendors on the dark web marketplace AlphaBay, and filled more than 78,000 orders of marijuana throughout the United States and world, the government said.
Farber and Lemons allegedly exchanged at least $7 million in bitcoin for cash that was allegedly the proceeds of the HumboldtFarms drug distribution.
Authorities gave this account of how the dark web operates:
Dark web sites such as AlphaBay operate on “The Onion Router” or “TOR” network, a special network of computers on the internet, distributed around the world, that is designed to conceal the true Internet Protocol addresses of the computers accessing the network, and the locations and identities of the network’s users and computer servers hosting the websites, referred to as “hidden services.”
The hidden services have complex web addresses, generated by a computer algorithm, ending in “.onion” and can only be accessed through specific web browser software designed to access the TOR network.
AlphaBay was shut down last month and is no longer in operation.
If convicted of conspiracy to possess controlled substance, the six defendants each face a maximum of 40 years in prison and a $5 million fine.
If convicted of conspiracy to distribute controlled substances, each defendant faces a maximum of five years in prison and a $250,000 fine.
If convicted of a money laundering conspiracy, Farber and Lemons each face a maximum statutory penalty of 20 years in prison and a fine up to $500,000 or up to twice the value of the property involved in the transactions, whichever is greater.