Feds arrest former California state IT worker in alleged dark web counterfeit drug scam

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Feds arrest former California state IT worker in alleged dark web counterfeit drug scam


BY SAM STANTON

Originally posted on
www.sacbee.com

A Sacramento man convicted in 2018 of illegal use of California Department of Technology computers while he worked there has been arrested and charged in a new case with conspiracy to traffic drugs, money laundering and trafficking in counterfeit items.

Jonathan Patrick Turrentine, 39, was booked Wednesday into the Sacramento County Main Jail and is named in a criminal complaint unsealed Thursday that charges him with using dark web internet sites to sell drugs, counterfeit Viagra tablets and stolen email addresses and passwords.

Court papers say Turrentine used the moniker Caliplugmike on the dark web Empire Marketplace to offer “various quantities of LSD, cocaine, Xanax pills, Adderall pills, psilocybin mushrooms, ecstasy, and marijuana products in various forms, including edibles, vape pens/cartridges, and marijuana buds in gram, ounce, and pound quantities for sale.”

“He also offered for sale compromised emails and passwords,” court papers say. “Over the course of this investigation, undercover agents purchased various items of contraband from Caliplugmike.”

An affidavit filed by Internal Revenue Service criminal investigation Special Agent Christopher Fitzpatrick says Turrentine has a 2004 arrest for possession of marijuana for sale and a conviction while he worked for the state for conspiring with a co-worker “to mine the digital currency Monero,” which bills itself as a cryptocurrency that is “secure, private, untraceable.”

“In March 2018, Turrentine pleaded no contest to accessing illegally a computer network to obtain money, property, or data wrongfully, and was sentenced to three years of probation and 30 days in jail,” the affidavit says.

State Department of Technology officials did not immediately respond Thursday to a request for comment. The online database Transparent California shows he was last employed there as a systems software specialist in 2016 earning $119,978 in salary and benefits.

Turrentine made his initial court appearance Thursday afternoon on the charges, which could lead to up to 20 years in prison and $2 million in fines. He did not enter a plea and was ordered to remain in custody pending another hearing Monday.

Investigators began looking at Turrentine in November 2018, when a suspicious package addressed to him arrived at the Royal Oaks Post Office and a drug-sniffing dog detected narcotics, court papers say.

Agents went to a home where Turrentine was renting a room and he told them he was not expecting the package, court papers say.

“Turrentine gave agents consent to open the parcel and inspect the contents,” court papers say. “Upon opening the parcel, agents located several thousand white pills which appeared to be counterfeit Xanax tablets.

“Turrentine denied all knowledge of the pills and stated that he was not expecting any such delivery.”

Because he was on searchable probation, investigators searched his room and found a bottle of 67 tablets “identical to the pills that were located in the suspect parcel,” along with prepaid shipping labels, vacuum sealing bags and other items, court papers say.

“During the probation search, investigators observed one computer with an active monitor on and observed communications which were consistent with that of an individual operating a darknet vendor site to distribute illegal narcotics,” court papers say. “A cursory search of the computer revealed that Turrentine controlled several dark web vendor accounts and utilized the monikers Mushmike1776, Calicartconnect, Calicarts, Bigboycarts and Californiabudz.”

Investigators in Sacramento, San Diego and Orange County continued to track Turrentine using post office surveillance video and tying him to the online Caliplugmike account, court papers say.

“As of April 4, 2020, Caliplugmike had 904 reviews on Empire Marketplace, with a customer service rating of 97.13% positive market feedback,” the 50-page complaint states, adding that online vendors “make reference to their reviews and ratings from other dark web marketplaces as a means of gaining the customers’ trust.”

Undercover agents using bitcoin made a number of online purchases of marijuana, ecstasy pills, generic Viagra, LSD and a list of 1.4 billion email addresses and passwords they purchased for $1, court papers say.

“Caliplugmike described the advertised item as follows: compiled from over 100 breaches into a simple plain text file you can read,” court papers say. “Most people have changed their email password but most people use the same password across multiple sites.

“You can use the email address and password to access any other sites like financial, social media, shopping sites, anything, etc.; you can even look up your own email and see what password is out there linked to your email.”

During the probe, investigators learned authorities in Orange County were looking into “the death of an 18-year old who they believe committed suicide after taking counterfeit Xanax purchased on the dark web.”

“After analyzing the victim’s darknet market accounts, investigators learned that the victim frequently ordered narcotics on darknet marketplaces,” court papers say. “Investigators learned that the victim had ordered a package from a vendor with moniker ‘Caliplugmike’ on the Empire Marketplace.

“The package had been mailed from Sacramento.”

In April 2020, investigators found Caliplugmike had “performed an exit scam” from the Empire dark web site, court papers say.

“Numerous customers posted comments that Caliplugmike had taken their money and had not provided the promised products,” court papers say. “Caliplugmike also changed his ‘About’ information to read only, ‘GOODBYE,’ indicating that he had in fact left the Empire Marketplace.”

Authorities traced Turrentine to other dark web sites, court papers say, and continued their surveillance until his arrest Wednesday.

This story was originally published September 23, 2021 1:23 PM.