By City News Service
A San Fernando Valley man pleaded not guilty Tuesday to federal charges alleging he used “darknet” marketplaces to sell hundreds of thousands of dollars’ worth of fentanyl-laced pills and cocaine to buyers nationwide.
The 22-year-old man from Van Nuys — whose alleged aliases include “Malachai Johnson” and “SouthSideOxy” — and a 22-year-old Burbank woman, were charged in an eight-count indictment filed last month, according to the U.S. attorney’s office.
Both defendants are charged with one count of conspiracy to distribute fentanyl and cocaine, five counts of distribution of fentanyl and one count of distribution of cocaine. The man also is charged with one count of possession of firearms in furtherance of a drug trafficking crime, court papers show.
The man has been in federal custody since his arrest on May 4. The female defendant is expected to make her initial federal court appearance in the coming weeks. A trial date of July 11 was scheduled in Los Angeles federal court, but that date is expected to change.
According to the indictment, from at least April 2021 until last month, the defendants and others conspired to sell fentanyl and cocaine via darknet marketplaces such as White House Market, ToRReZ and AlphaBay. The man, using aliases, created vendor profiles on these marketplaces to sell illegal drugs in exchange for cryptocurrency, the indictment alleges.
The defendants allegedly monitored and maintained the vendor profiles, including by updating drug listings and shipment options, tracking drug orders received online, and offloading Monero cryptocurrency received as drug deal payments into cryptocurrency wallets that the man controlled, prosecutors said.
The man allegedly recruited and hired accomplices — including the woman — to help with packaging and shipping the narcotics that they sold on the darknet. The man directed his alleged female accomplice and other co-conspirators on how to package and ship the narcotics, and he assisted them in the packaging and shipping, the indictment alleges.
The indictment contends that in May 2021, one week after the man created a darknet vendor profile for the purpose of selling illegal drugs, he texted the woman to tell her that their darknet drug sales were doing well.
Later that month, the male defendant allegedly texted a co-conspirator that he had just sold 20,000 pills to customers, according to court documents.
In June 2021, he allegedly texted an accomplice that he had 34 drug orders he had to fill. The following month, in text messages to the woman about the conspiracy’s goals, the defendant stated, “I’m really tryna make like 5 mil,” according to the indictment.
The proceeds from the alleged drug sales — after being converted from cryptocurrency into cash — allegedly were stored by the defendants at their respective residences. They shipped fentanyl and cocaine that were sold for hundreds of thousands of dollars, according to the indictment.
The man also allegedly possessed firearms, specifically two gold-plated handguns — one without a serial number — to protect his drug-trafficking business and the proceeds of drug sales made on darknet marketplaces, federal prosecutors said.
If convicted of all charges, the man and woman would face mandatory minimum sentences of 15 years and 10 years, respectively, in federal prison. Each defendant also would face up to life in federal prison, prosecutors noted.
First published in the June 10 print issue of the Burbank Leader.