Computer Scientist Jailed Over Dark Web Conspiracy

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A computer scientist has been charged with using computers belonging to the California Department of Technology for illegal purposes.

According to the Transparent California online database, Jonathan Patrick Turrentine was employed by the department as a system software specialist as recently as 2016. 

On Wednesday, the 39-year-old was booked into the Sacramento County Main Jail on suspicion of drug trafficking, money laundering and trafficking in counterfeit goods. He is being held without bail.

A 50-page criminal complaint unsealed on Thursday alleges that Turrentine, using screen names including Caliplugmike, sold various contraband items via the dark website Empire Marketplace. 

The complaint states: “As of April 4, 2020, Caliplugmike had 904 reviews on Empire Marketplace, with a customer service score of 97.13% positive market feedback.”

Turrentine is accused of selling “various amounts of LSD, cocaine, Xanax pills, Adderall pills, psilocybin mushroom, ecstasy and herbal products of marijuana in various forms including edibles, vape pens/cartridges and marijuana buds in gram, ounce and pound amounts” alongside compromised emails and passwords. 

An investigation was launched in November 2018 after drug-detecting sniffer dogs flagged a suspicious package that arrived at Royal Oaks post office, addressed to Turrentine.

When law enforcement officers opened the package, they found several thousand apparently fake Xanax pills. Turrentine said he wasn’t expecting a delivery and denied any knowledge of the pills. 

Since Turrentine was on probation after being convicted in 2018 of illegally accessing a computer network to mine Monero, investigators could conduct an immediate search of his room.

A bottle containing 67 tablets that officers described as “identical to the pills that were in the suspicious package” was discovered along with prepaid shipping labels and vacuum bags.

Investigators also observed a computer with an active monitor on, displaying “communications that matched those of an individual operating a darknet vendor site to distribute illegal narcotics.”

Court documents state: “A quick computer search revealed that Turrentine controlled several dark web provider accounts and used the nicknames Mushmike1776, Calicartconnect, Calicarts, Bigboycarts, and Californiabudz.”

Undercover agents tracked Turrentine, using Bitcoin to purchase illegal goods from his alleged dark web accounts, including drugs and a $1 list of 1.4 billion email addresses and passwords.

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