LOS ANGELES – As a part of a world effort to disrupt narcotics trafficking on the darknet, particular brokers with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) Homeland Safety Investigations (HSI) and members of the Los Angeles Joint Legal Opioid and Darknet Enforcement (JCODE) Activity Pressure introduced fees Tuesday in opposition to a key member of a Southern California drug trafficking group who allegedly distributed methamphetamine and different illicit narcotics to 1000’s of shoppers in at the least 35 states and quite a few international locations around the globe.
Andres Bermudez, 37, of Palmdale, allegedly provided methamphetamine to the “Stealthgod” crew, was named in a legal grievance filed Sept. 18. An affidavit in this case outlines how Bermudez allegedly provided methamphetamine to the “Stealthgod” drug trafficking group and particulars negotiations involving transactions of 30 kilos and 40 kilos of methamphetamine. Bermudez is presently a fugitive sought by federal authorities.
Earlier this 12 months, 5 different members of the narcotics ring have been arrested on federal fees, and authorities made substantial seizures of narcotics and cryptocurrency.
“Along with our companions, we stay on the forefront of combating narcotics trafficking, monetary crimes and illicit actions purveyed by on-line black markets,” stated David A. Prince, particular agent in cost for ICE’s HSI in Los Angeles. “Now we have confirmed, as soon as once more, that these illicit actions on the darknet won’t be tolerated in the US. Whereas legal operators might proceed to develop the attain of their companies via these darkish net marketplaces, the actual fact is that irrespective of how or the place these crimes are dedicated, nothing is past the attain of the regulation.”
This case is a part of Operation DisrupTor, which builds on the success of prior actions focusing on darknet distributors, together with the takedown of Wall Avenue Market, which was one of many world’s largest darkish net marketplaces. Following the Wall Avenue Market takedown in Might 2019 and the submitting of federal charges in Los Angeles against the administrators, regulation enforcement in the US and Europe obtained intelligence that allowed them to establish darknet drug traffickers.
“These on-line black market web sites use a wide range of applied sciences, together with the Tor community and different encryption applied sciences, to make sure that communications and transactions are shielded from interception and monitoring,” in keeping with courtroom paperwork filed final week in Los Angeles. “A well-known darkish net market, Wall Avenue Market, operated just like professional industrial web sites equivalent to Amazon and eBay, however supplied illicit items and providers” in change for digital currencies, equivalent to Bitcoin.
“By the excellent efforts of the JCODE Activity Pressure, we have now been in a position to unmask these hiding on the darknet, bringing to justice a wide selection of criminals, together with these working on-line marketplaces, laundering cryptocurrency, and spreading medication around the globe,” stated U.S. Legal professional Nick Hanna. “My prosecutors and their JCODE companions will proceed to rein in unlawful darkish net actions by disrupting different traffickers and those that assist them entry their illicit cryptocurrency.”
“Americans endure the unlucky penalties of darkweb marketplaces the place criminals get wealthy by exploiting these struggling via an opioid epidemic whereas evading regulation enforcement scrutiny,” stated John F. Bennett, performing assistant director accountable for the FBI’s Los Angeles subject workplace. “This case and others ought to ship a message that regulation enforcement has infiltrated the perceived anonymity of the darkweb and possesses the instruments to establish and maintain accountable people and teams accountable for unlawful trafficking and the devastating toll it takes on humanity in the US and overseas.”
“Members of the Stealthgod crew have found that not even the darknet may defend their legal actions from the watchful eyes of Postal Inspectors and our regulation enforcement companions,” stated Patricia Armstrong, inspector accountable for the U.S. Postal Inspection Service, Los Angeles. “The alleged drug traffickers miscalculated after they selected to make use of the U.S. mail to additional their crimes, and they’re going to face a really extreme worth.”
Throughout Operation DisrupTor, the Los Angeles JCODE Activity Pressure efficiently dismantled a drug trafficking group that used on-line monikers equivalent to “Stealthgod” to promote methamphetamine and MDMA on a number of darknet marketplaces, together with Wall Avenue Market. Investigators have linked the crew to greater than 18,000 illicit drug gross sales to clients around the globe. Throughout an operation earlier this 12 months, members of JCODE executed search warrants that led to the seizure of greater than 60 parcels containing narcotics that have been able to be shipped to greater than 35 states across the nation.
Members of JCODE arrested 5 defendants allegedly on the middle of the “Stealthgod” group and seized roughly 120 kilos of methamphetamine, seven kilograms of MDMA (“ecstasy”) and 5 firearms (photo of seizure) throughout regulation enforcement actions within the Metropolis of Los Angeles in February,. The 5 defendants arrested on federal fees are:
- Teresa McGrath, 34, of Sunland-Tujunga, who allegedly delivered dozens of narcotics-laden packages to a submit workplace in Sunland;
- Rane Melkom, 35, of Sunland-Tujunga, who shared a residence with McGrath the place authorities seized greater than 50 kilos of methamphetamine, almost 15 kilos of MDMA, roughly 30,000 Adderall drugs, money, and three loaded handguns;
- Mark Chavez, 41, of downtown Los Angeles, whose bed room yielded almost 40 kilos of methamphetamine and two handguns throughout a search in February;
- Matthew Ick, 51, of downtown Los Angeles, who’s linked in courtroom papers to a narcotics cargo to the group; and
- Thomas Olayvar, 43, of downtown Los Angeles, who allegedly was concerned within the cargo of narcotics via the US Postal Service.
McGrath has pleaded responsible to conspiracy to distribute methamphetamine and MDMA, possession of a firearm in furtherance of drug trafficking, and cryptocurrency cash laundering, admitting that over the course of about six months she obtained roughly $161,916 in Bitcoin and helped disburse this cash to her co-conspirators.
Chavez has pleaded responsible to conspiring to distribute methamphetamine and MDMA, in addition to possessing a firearm in furtherance of drug trafficking.
McGrath and Chavez are scheduled to be sentenced subsequent 12 months, when every will face a compulsory minimal sentence of 15 years in federal jail.
Melkom, Ick, and Olayvar face varied narcotics fees alleged in legal informations. These defendants are presently scheduled to go on trial subsequent 12 months.
The circumstances stemming from the investigation into the “Stealthgod” group are being prosecuted by the U.S. Legal professional for the Central District of California’s Worldwide Narcotics, Cash Laundering and Racketeering Part.
Because the investigation into the “Stealthgod” crew continued, the Los Angeles JCODE Activity Pressure made extra seizures, together with $1.6 million in cryptocurrency, three firearms, 11 kilos of methamphetamine and 14 kilos of drugs pressed with methamphetamine.
Along with the Operation DistrupTor circumstances associated to “Stealthgod,” federal prosecutors in Los Angeles have filed circumstances in opposition to different alleged darknet narcotics traffickers and those that assist them convert bitcoin into fiat foreign money. For instance:
- Kais Mohammad, 36, of Yorba Linda, is scheduled to plead responsible on Thursday to federal fees stemming from the operation of 17 Bitcoin kiosks throughout Southern California. In his plea settlement, Mohammad admitted that he knew that at the least certainly one of his shoppers was engaged in illicit exercise on the darkish net.
Earlier this 12 months, three folks linked to the web moniker “Aeirla” have been sentenced to federal jail for conspiring to distribute methamphetamine and cocaine to clients who negotiated transactions on the darkweb. These defendants are:
- Anh Pham, 49, of Hawaiian Gardens, was sentenced to 80 months in federal jail;
- Joseph Michael Gifford, 43, of La Crescenta, was sentenced to 3 years’ imprisonment; and
- Carlos Miguel Gallardo, 60, Hawaiian Gardens, was sentenced to serve 18 months in federal jail.
Pham bought pound portions of methamphetamine on the darknet, whereas Gifford and Gallardo packaged them – in toys, a seashore ball, and containers of Christmas playing cards and sweets – and shipped them to clients nationwide.
5 defendants are scheduled to be tried in October 2021 in U.S. District Court docket in Los Angeles on varied narcotics trafficking fees that allege they used the monikers “Drugpharmacist” and “RickandMortyShop” to promote cocaine, heroin, methamphetamine and crack cocaine on Wall Avenue Market and one other darknet market referred to as Dream. Members of the conspiracy allegedly shipped narcotics in small vials hid inside stuffed animals. The defendants scheduled to go on trial are: Jerrell Eugene Anderson, 30, of Inglewood; Christopher Canion Van Holton, 33, of Valencia; Adan Sepulveda, 28, of Lancaster; Kenneth Lashawn Hadley, 33, of Lancaster; and Jackie Walter Burns, 22, of Lancaster. Anderson and Sepulveda face a cost of distribution of heroin leading to demise in relation to a cargo of heroin to a buyer in Knoxville, Tennessee, who suffered a deadly overdose.
- Kunal Kalra, 26, of Westwood, was sentenced in March to 18 months in federal jail after pleading responsible to federal narcotics and anti-money laundering fees associated to his unlicensed money transmitting business that he used to change digital foreign money for money for darknet distributors. This matter was the primary federal case within the nation charging an unlicensed cash remitting enterprise that used a Bitcoin kiosk.
- A father and his son who distributed methamphetamine on the darknet utilizing monikers such “Quartersandup,” “Tenderwoodcock,” “Colsandersdream,” and “colonelsanders” have been sentenced to federal jail final 12 months. William Glarner III, 65, of Huntington Seashore, was convicted at trial and sentenced to 15 years. His son, William Glarner IV, 35, of Irvine, pleaded responsible and was sentenced to 10 years.
- Tyler Reeves, a 30-year-old Irvine man who bought narcotics on Wall Avenue Market underneath the moniker “Platinum45,” was sentenced final 12 months to 10 years in federal jail.
The “Stealthgod” circumstances are the results of an investigation by the Los Angeles JCODE Activity Pressure, which is comprised of a number of federal companies, together with HSI, the FBI and the U.S. Postal Inspection Service.
The Drug Enforcement Administration offered substantial help through the “Stealthgod” investigation. The Los Angeles Police Division and Los Angeles Sheriff’s Division additionally participated within the “Stealthgod” investigation. The U.S. Legal professional’s Workplace for the Northern District of California additionally offered help.
The darknet investigations mentioned on this announcement have been prosecuted by the U.S. Legal professional for the Central District of California and carried out with the help of the Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Activity Pressure (OCDETF).