SACRAMENTO, Calif. — A man living in Sacramento allegedly dabbled in the seedy underworld of selling drugs through the darknet, a federal grand jury said in documents filed last week.
Jonathan Patrick Turrentine has been indicted on 13 charges, which range from distributing MDMA to money laundering, stemming from his alleged years of illicit business deals on the darknet. A conviction on even one of the charges could result in decades spent behind bars.
Turrentine was previously convicted in Sacramento County in 2017 for allegedly using state computer systems to mine cryptocurrency along with a CDT co-worker, Jeff Rikala. Both served 30 days in county jail and were placed on three years of searchable probation.
Turrentine’s recent arrest comes in the midst of a large-scale crackdown on online drug markets by federal law enforcement officials worldwide, dubbed “Operation Dark HunTor.” He is just one of 150 people arrested in connection to the campaign, which resulted in the seizure of millions of dollars and over 200 kilograms of drugs.
According to court papers, a federal investigation into Turrentine also involved a separate inquiry into a darknet vendor known as “CALIPLUGMIKE” in 2019. CaliPlugMike was suspected of mailing drugs through the US Postal Service, and listed products for sale on several marketplaces that included counterfeit prescription pills, psilocybin mushrooms, and compromised email accounts. Undercover agents facilitated several deals with the user and communicated with him over encrypted messaging apps such as Wickr.
The previous year, in 2018, officials began to eye Turrentine as a possible darknet vendor after a box sent from Houston addressed to his home in North Natomas was held at a US Post Office for further inspection when officials noticed “several anomalies” consistent with drug-related packages. A drug-sniffing police canine called in the same day offered a positive hit on the package, and authorities prepared to descend on Turrentine’s home.
When the Tri-County Drug Enforcement Team arrived at Turrentine’s home in North Natomas, the owner answered the door, confirmed that Turrentine rented a room in the house, and called him down.
Turrentine told police that he wasn’t expecting any packages and denied knowing a “Tan Dinh”, whose name was listed on the box. He gave authorities consent to open the package, which contained thousands of counterfeit Xanax tablets. Turrentine again denied expecting them. Authorities then decided to check his room.
While checking his rented room, law enforcement officers say they found a pill bottle containing dozens of tablets identical to the ones found in the box Dinh mailed to Turrentine, assorted shipping envelopes and boxes with prepaid labels, marijuana vape cartridges, hash oil, and several computers. The pills were later determined to contain alprazolam – generic Xanax.
One of the computers, according to an affidavit filed by an IRS investigator, showed a thread of messages involving darknet drug activity from several different accounts such as MUSHMIKE1776, CALICARTCONNECT, and BIGBOYCARTS.
In April of 2019, as officials continued to investigate Turrentine, they say they found two suspicious packages mailed at the Royal Oaks Post Office in Sacramento, which were labeled with a fake return business name: “CPlus eBay Store”, which officials say was similar to a return address seen on Turrentine’s computer in 2018.
In December of 2019, Orange County DEA agents first sounded the alarm on CaliPlugMike, who they suspected of selling counterfeit Xanax that led a teenager to kill himself. Agents seized a package mailed by the user from Sacramento and alerted local USPS employees, who dropped a bombshell on investigators: CaliPlugMike was Turrentine.
The return name used on the parcel Turrentine allegedly shipped to Orange County was “CC101 Parts” – a name he allegedly used once before while mailing a package to San Diego in November. He’s also said to have been ID’d by post office surveillance in both locations.
Over the next year, investigators continued to track Turrentine through his alleged online deals as CaliPlugMike. During that time, he operated vendor pages on several different darknet marketplaces and unknowingly sold product to undercover agents including:
- 60 counterfeit Xanax bars,
- Two oz. Marijuana,
- Six Ecstasy pills,
- Six Viagra pills,
- LSD tablets,
- 83 counterfeit Adderall pills,
- a list of 1.4 billion compromised email accounts.
Agents say that each time they placed their undercover orders, they were able to ID Turrentine as the sender through post office surveillance. He allegedly used funds from a UK cryptocurrency exchange to pay for postage at self-serve kiosks using a debit card – an activity that has led to a money laundering charge.
Beginning on April 4, Turrentine’s alleged online activity as CaliPlugMike came to a screeching halt. The user had abruptly left the Empire Marketplace. Several posts surrounding the event on darknet forums show a community concerned with where one of their top sellers had gone.
“Anyone know anything about CaliPlugMike on 3mp?” one user said on Reddit.
“Probably exit scammed,” another user answered.
According to officials, Turrentine had run off with several customers’ money without sending them their product, modifying his vendor page to only read “GOODBYE”, before later telling undercover agents he’d be doing “direct deals” only.
Following the exit from Empire Marketplace, Turrentine’s alleged deals stalled until November of 2020, when investigators tied him to yet another darknet vendor account.
The new account, DatCubensisBoy, operated on the Dark Market marketplace. An examination of the user’s profile on a darknet forum website by The Update revealed several advertisements for marijuana and psychedelic mushroom spores, as well as a large argument after his fellow users appeared to figure out he was CaliPlugMike.
“WHM banned me for being a previous scammer even though this is my first time vending,” DatCubensisBoy wrote. “WHM vendors beware.”
“Well, hello CaliPlugMike!” a site administrator replied. “There is no mistake. You are the same vendor/team as “caliplugmike” who exit scammed a while ago. Happy Holidays bro, stop this shit, you are not as smart as you think you are.”
DatCubensisBoy then blamed the entire interaction on his “little brother” who he said forgot to change his bitcoin wallet address, triggering a false positive that resulted in his ban.
“I never scammed anyone, dumb motherfuckers are now exposed, lol,” DatCubensisBoy said.
In November of 2020, postal inspectors intercepted a suspicious package mailed to an individual in Iowa referred to in court papers as AK. Postal Inspector Jason Bauwens contacted an Iowa-based inspector, who later went to the individual’s home and discovered that the package was one ounce of marijuana, mailed from DatCubensisBoy from the “Morgan Ebay Store” in Sacramento.
Beginning on November 9th, officials began to place several undercover orders with DatCubensisBoy, which included syringes filed with psychedelic mushroom spores and mushroom prints. Those orders, according to officials who cited post office surveillance, were once again mailed out by Turrentine.
Law enforcement later seized and shut down the Dark Market marketplace, and their trail to Turrentine’s alleged online sales was gone. They continued to conduct surveillance on him at his home until September 27th, when they finally moved in to make an arrest.
Once officials arrested Turrentine and searched his residence, they say they found a “psychedelic mushroom cultivation operation” along with packaging and shipping materials. A search of the man’s computer revealed that he was CaliPlugMike and DatCubensisBoy.
Turrentine has pleaded not guilty and seeks to fight the allegations at trial. He was released earlier this month on $25,000 bond. His lawyer did not return a request for comment.