Six Indicted for Large-Scale Drug Distribution Via the Dark Web
FRESNO, Calif. — A federal grand jury returned an indictment today charging six defendants in a scheme to distribute controlled substances throughout the United States via the dark web, U.S. Attorney Phillip A. Talbert announced.
William James Farber, aka Bill Danzerian, 37, of Los Angeles, and Bryan Anthony Lemons, 29, of Los Angeles, were charged with conspiracy to possess and distribute controlled substances and conspiracy to launder money. 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, were charged with conspiracy to possess and distribute controlled substances.
According to court documents, Farber and his co-conspirators, operating under the name PureFireMeds, sold narcotics including marijuana, cocaine, oxycodone, hydrocodone, psilocybin, MDMA (Ecstasy), LSD, Xanax, and ketamine on dark web marketplaces, including Silk Road and Pandora. After Silk Road was shut down by law enforcement in October 2013, it is alleged that Farber and his co-conspirators began selling on the AlphaBay dark web marketplace under the name HumboldtFarms. It became one of the largest vendors on AlphaBay, allegedly completing more than 78,000 orders of marijuana on the site to customers throughout the United States and the world. Palma, Martinsen and others allegedly used Pickerell’s home to assemble an estimated 1,000 parcels of marijuana a week that were mailed throughout the United States. Farber and Lemons allegedly exchanged at least $7 million in bitcoin for cash that was allegedly the proceeds of the HumboldtFarms drug distribution.
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 (IP) addresses of the computers accessing the network, and, thereby, the locations and identities of the network’s users and computer servers hosting the websites, which are 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 by U.S. law enforcement on July 5, 2017, and is no longer in operation.
This case is the product of an investigation by the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI), the U.S. Postal Inspection Service in Los Angeles, the Los Angeles Police Department, and the Bakersfield Police Department with assistance from the Los Angeles Joint Regional Intelligence Center. Assistant U.S. Attorneys Grant B. Rabenn and Ross Pearson are prosecuting the case.
This case was part of an Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Force (OCDETF). The OCDETF program was established in 1982 to conduct comprehensive, multilevel attacks on major drug trafficking and money laundering organizations. The principal mission of the OCDETF program is to identify, disrupt, and dismantle the most serious drug trafficking and money laundering organizations and those primarily responsible for the nation’s drug supply.
If convicted of conspiracy to possess controlled substance, all six defendants face a maximum statutory penalty of 40 years in prison and a $5 million fine. If convicted of conspiracy to distribute controlled substance, each defendant faces a maximum statutory penalty of five years in prison and a $250,000 fine. If convicted of the 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. Any sentence, however, would be determined at the discretion of the district court after considering any applicable statutory factors and the Federal Sentencing Guidelines. The charges are only allegations; the defendants are presumed innocent until and unless proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.