Sacramento man indicted for drug distribution via the darknet


Notice: Historical Content

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Date: October 26, 2021


Sacramento, CA — A federal grand jury returned a 13-count indictment on October 21 against Jonathan Patrick Turrentine of Sacramento, charging him with 11 counts of distribution of controlled substances, including methamphetamine, amphetamine, MDMA (ecstasy), LSD, and psilocybin (psychedelic mushrooms), one count of possession with intent to distribute psilocybin, and one count of money laundering, Acting U.S. Attorney Phillip A. Talbert announced.

According to court documents, Turrentine is charged with operating vendor pages on darknet marketplaces, selling drugs and other contraband. Turrentine used various aliases on the different sites, including "CaliPlugMike" and "DatCubensisBoy." On the darknet's Empire Marketplace site, he advertised for sale LSD, cocaine, Xanax pills, Adderall pills, psilocybin mushrooms, ecstasy, and marijuana products, including edibles, vape pens and cartridges, as well as marijuana buds in gram, ounce, and pound quantities. Turrentine also offered for sale compromised email account identifiers and passwords. Turrentine accepted payment exclusively in bitcoin, or other cryptocurrency, as is common to darknet transactions.

Court documents indicate that investigators became aware of Turrentine in November 2018, when a suspicious package addressed to him arrived at a Sacramento-area post office and a drug-sniffing dog alerted to it. Investigators questioned him about the package, but Turrentine denied all knowledge.

At the time, Turrentine was on probation from a prior conviction for accessing a computer network to obtain money, property, or data wrongfully. During a search of his residence, investigators found one computer powered-on and observed communications consistent with operating a darknet vendor site, apparently distributing narcotics. Data on that computer indicate that Turrentine was operating several darknet vendor accounts under the names "Mushmike1776," "Calicartconnect," "Calicarts," "Bigboycarts," and "Californiabudz."

In December 2019, Sacramento agents learned that federal and local law enforcement agencies in Orange County were investigating the death of an 18-year-old whom they believe committed suicide after taking counterfeit Xanax purchased on the darknet. The victim's computer showed the victim bought products through darknet market accounts, including from "CaliPlugMike," on the Empire Marketplace. Agents determined that the delivery to the victim from CaliPlugMike had been mailed from Sacramento. Around this time, agents also became aware of another darknet vendor operating in San Diego, whom San Diego agents believed to be sourcing drugs from CaliPlugMike.

Over the next year, investigators in Sacramento, San Diego, and Orange County continued to track Turrentine via his darknet activity, which appeared extensive. As of April 4, 2020, CaliPlugMike had 904 customer reviews on Empire Marketplace, with a customer service rating of 97.13% positive market feedback.

Posing as Empire Marketplace customers, federal agents placed orders from Turrentine for marijuana, MDMA, LSD, and various pills purporting to be Adderall, Xanax, and Viagra. Agents also bought a list of 1.4 billion email addresses and passwords for $1, which Turrentine's vendor page described as "compiled from over 100 breaches into a simple plain text file you can read." His page further explained that "most people have changed their email password but most people use the same password across multiple sites." Agents paid for all orders in bitcoin or another cryptocurrency.

With every undercover order agents placed, they confirmed from post office security camera footage that Turrentine was the person who mailed the shipment. Agents noted that he paid for the postage at the post office's self-serve kiosks, using a debit card. An investigation of Turrentine's financial records showed that the funds on his debit card had come from a cryptocurrency exchange in the United Kingdom. Records further indicated that Turrentine had been transferring bitcoin to that cryptocurrency exchange, in exchange for U.S. dollars, then transferring those dollars to his debit card account. According to court documents, the quantity of bitcoin that Turrentine exchanged was far greater than what he could have acquired through his legitimate income sources.

Beginning on April 4, 2020, however, customer feedback on CaliPlugMike's Empire Marketplace vendor page indicated that he had performed an exit scam – a ruse in which a vendor takes a number of orders with payment, but then disappears from the marketplace without filling the orders. Around that date, in the "About" section of the CaliPlugMike's page, Turrentine changed his vendor information to one word: "GOODBYE."

A few months later, a suspicious package, destined for Iowa, was found that fit the profile of packages agents had received from Turrentine, but from a vendor named "DatCubensisBoy," on the Dark Market site. Agents acting undercover then placed orders from DatCubensisBoy, via Dark Market, for what he advertised as psychedelic mushroom spores. The packaging in which DatCubensisBoy mailed the spores appeared in all respects the same as the packaging Turrentine had used when shipping orders placed through his CaliPlugMike page. Post Office surveillance footage from the time and place DatCubensisBoy's orders had been mailed again confirmed that Turrentine mailed them.

On Sept. 27, 2021, agents arrested Turrentine and searched his residence where they found a psychedelic mushroom cultivation operation, processed mushrooms, ready for shipment, as well as the same packaging and shipping materials Turrentine had used to send his prior packages. A review of Turrentine's computer revealed that he had been actively operating vendor sites on the darknet under the moniker "Fantasticfungi." Agents also found evidence on the computer confirming that Turrentine had been using the monikers "CaliPlugMike" and "DatCubensisBoy."

This case is the product of an investigation by the Northern California Illicit Digital Economy (NCIDE) task force, a team composed of agents from the Internal Revenue Service – Criminal Investigation, the Drug Enforcement Administration, Homeland Security Investigations, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the U.S. Postal Inspection Service, the U.S. Postal Service – Office of the Inspector General, and the California National Guard. Assistant U.S. Attorney James Conolly is prosecuting the case.

If convicted, Turrentine faces a maximum statutory penalty of 20 years in prison and a $1 million fine for each count of distribution and the count of possession with intent to distribute. He faces a maximum statutory penalty of 20 years in prison if convicted of the money laundering count and a fine of up to $500,000, or twice the value of the property involved in the money laundering activity, whichever is greater. Any sentence, however, would be determined at the discretion of the court after consideration of any applicable statutory factors and the Federal Sentencing Guidelines, which take into account a number of variables. The charges are only allegations; the defendant is presumed innocent until and unless proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.