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17 From Across SoCal Arrested In Federal Crackdown On Darkweb Drug Sales; Palmdale Man Still At Large

LOS ANGELES (CBSLA) — A crackdown on darknet drug sales has swept up a Southern California drug trafficking organization that allegedly distributed meth and other narcotics to customers in at least 35 states and several countries around the world.

Two people from Sunland-Tujunga and three more from downtown Los Angeles were arrested earlier this year, but Andres Bermudez, 37, of Palmdale, who has been named in a criminal complaint as a key supplier to the L.A. operation, remains at large, according to the Department of Justice.

darknet bust
(credit: FBI/USPIS/HSI)

"These online black market websites use a variety of technologies, including the Tor network and other encryption technologies, to ensure that communications and transactions are shielded from interception and monitoring," court documents filed in Los Angeles alleged, according to the DOJ. One of the most well-known, Wall Street Market, operated similarly to Amazon or eBay, but offered "illicit goods and services" in exchange for virtual currency like bitcoin.

The LA operation used online monikers such as "Stealthgod" to sell methamphetamine and MDMA on several darknet marketplaces, including Wall Street market, and have been linked to more than 18,000 illicit drug sales to customers around the world. Earlier this year, members of the LA Joint Criminal Opioid and Darknet Enforcement (JCODE) task force executed search warrants that led to the seizure of more than 60 packages containing packages that were ready to be shipped to more than 35 states.

Other alleged members of the Stealthgod operation include 34-year-old Teresa McGrath and 35-year-old Rane Melkom, both of Sunland-Tujunga. The couple allegedly delivered dozens of narcotics-laden packages to a post office in Sunland, and several pounds of methamphetamine, MDMA and Adderall, cash and loaded handguns were seized from the home they shared. Mark Chavez, 41; Matthew Ick, 51; and Thomas Olayvar, 43, all of downtown Los Angeles, were also arrested on a variety of drug and weapons charges.

McGrath and Chavez have already pleaded guilty in their cases, and are scheduled to be sentenced next year. They both face a mandatory minimum sentence of 15 years in federal prison.

Melkom Ick and Olayvar are scheduled to go on trial next year.

The investigation into the "Stealthgod" operation has also led to other Southern California arrests, including three linked to the online monikor "Aeirla" suspected of selling methamphetamine and cocaine to darkweb customers; a Yorba Linda man who has agreed to plead guilty to unlawfully operating bitcoin kiosks across the region; five who allegedly used the monikers "Drugpharmacist" and "RickandMortyShop" to sell cocaine, heroin, meth and crack cocaine; a Westwood man serving federal prison time for narcotics and anti-money laundering charges; a father and son convicted of distributing methamphetamine on the darknet with monikers like "Quartersandup" and "Colsandersdream;" and an Irvine man serving 10 years in prison for selling drugs on Wall Street Market under the moniker "Platinum45."

A total of 179 were arrested in the nationwide crackdown, dubbed "Operation DisrupTor."

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