Group Accused Of Running Multimillion-Dollar Drug Ring On Dark Web

By Keri Blakinger 08/21/17

Investigators claim that the group sold more than 78,000 orders of marijuana on AlphaBay alone. 

hooded man standing in front of a dark operating room with multiple computer displays

Six Californians accused of running a multimillion-dollar drug ring on the dark web are facing felony charges after feds unsealed an indictment last Thursday. 

William James Farber and Bryan Antony Lemons, both from Los Angeles, were hit with drug trafficking and money laundering charges after allegedly heading up an operation that filled more than 78,000 orders for cannabis. The operation also sold oxycodone, hydrocodone, psilocybin mushrooms, ecstasy, LSD, Xanax and ketamine, the Los Angeles Times reported

Richard Thomas Martinsen, Michael Angelo Palma, Michele Pickerell, and Faysal Mustafa Alkhayat are also facing drug charges. 

Investigators say the group ran two different dark web drug rings, one on the Silk Road and a second on AlphaBay. The underground businesses allegedly put together around 1,000 illicit orders a week, all packaged in Pickerell’s home in an Altadena gated community. 

The group reportedly raked in more than $7 million over four years, all in Bitcoin funneled through intermediaries and converted to cash, according to court documents. 

Investigators were first tipped off by U.S. Postal Service receipts uncovered by the DEA at a clandestine drug lab in Massachusetts in 2014. The labels were addressed to Farber, who’d been receiving cash in exchange for Bitcoin. 

Feds began to suspect Farber was the man behind PureFireMeds, a Silk Road drug distributor. In 2016, Homeland Security searched Farber’s phone as he returned from a trip to Jamaica, reportedly uncovering various photos of him with an assortment of drugs. 

A subsequent warrant for emails allowed investigators to uncover a trail of PureFireMeds interactions, though the business had shut down when Silk Road closed following its creator’s arrest. In 2016, police suspected the owners of PureFireMeds were now operating as HumboldtFarms on AlphaBay, so they ordered eight grams of pot to figure out who would deliver it. 

But that illicit order wasn’t enough to ensnare the drug ring, and it took another few months of studying surveillance video and package labels to identify the alleged drug deliverers and establish their connections to the underground dealers in question. 

Feds also found that Farber was allegedly running a grow house in Northridge gobbling up more energy than a Costco. 

If convicted, the six accused dealers could get up to 45 years each in prison. Farber and Lemons could face another 20 years each for money laundering. 

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Keri Blakinger is a former drug user and current reporter living in Texas. She covers breaking news for the Houston Chronicle and previously worked for the New York Daily News and the Ithaca Times. She has written about drugs and criminal justice for the Washington Post, Salon, Quartz and more. She loves dogs and is not impressed by rodeo food. Find Keri on LinkedIn and Twitter.