LOS ANGELES (CBSLA) — Federal investigators are looking for a Palmdale man who is allegedly a methamphetamine trafficker who was a key supplier to a Los Angeles-based drug trafficking organization.
Andres Bermudez, 37, of Palmdale is believed to be a key supplier to a group of Southern Californian drug traffickers who were caught and charged earlier this year as part of an international crackdown by the Los Angeles Joint Criminal Opioid and Darknet Task Force targeting drug dealers on the dark web.
“This LA group used a variety of monikers, but most prominently ‘StealthGod,’” said Assistant U.S. Attorney Puneet Kakkar, who is prosecuting the case. “They were selling meth and MDMA across the country and around the world. And so it took a fair bit of investigation to find out who they were.”
Authorities arrested and charged five people involved in the “StealthGod” crew, and two of them have pleaded guilty. Investigators didn’t just go after the traffickers. They also went after the vendors, leading to the charges against Bermudez.
“We wanted to further address the drug problem because one vendor can easily be replaced by another,” Kakkar said. “But we want to go to the source of that problem. And that’s why we have filed charges against Mr. Bermudez.”
Right now, Bermudez is a fugitive after being charged last week. Investigators say he has a home in Palmdale and is known to frequent the Sherman Oaks area.
Anyone with information on his whereabouts, has been asked to call the FBI’s Los Angeles Field Office.
The five others who have been charged are:
— Teresa McGrath, 34, of Sunland-Tujunga, who allegedly delivered dozens of narcotics-laden packages to a post office in Sunland
— Rane Melkom, 35, of Sunland-Tujunga, who shared a residence with McGrath where authorities seized more than 50 pounds of methamphetamine, nearly 15 pounds of MDMA, approximately 30,000 Adderall pills, cash, and three loaded handguns
— Mark Chavez, 41, of downtown Los Angeles, whose bedroom yielded nearly 40 pounds of methamphetamine and two handguns during a search in February
— Matthew Ick, 51, of downtown Los Angeles, who is linked in court papers to a narcotics shipment to the organization
— Thomas Olayvar, 43, of downtown Los Angeles, who allegedly was involved in the shipment of narcotics through the United States Postal Service.
McGrath pleaded guilty to conspiracy to distribute methamphetamine and MDMA, possession of a firearm in furtherance of drug trafficking, and cryptocurrency money laundering and admitted that, over the course of about six months, she received approximately $161,916 in Bitcoin and helped disburse this money to her co-conspirators.
Chavez pleaded guilty to conspiring to distribute methamphetamine and MDMA, and possessing a firearm in furtherance of drug trafficking.
McGrath and Chavez are scheduled to be sentenced next year, when each will face a mandatory minimum sentence of 15 years in federal prison.
Melkom, Ick, and Olayvar face various narcotics charges alleged in criminal informations. These defendants are currently scheduled to go on trial next year.
During the operation, federal and local authorities seized 120 pounds of methamphetamine, seven kilograms of MDMA or “ecstasy,” five firearms and $1.6 million dollars in cryptocurrency.
Kakkar said the darknet or the dark web refers to the part of the internet that’s only accessible with special software, allowing users and website operators to remain anonymous or untraceable.
“It’s just like your e-commerce website, but it exists on the darknet,” he said. “When you go onto this darknet website, you can buy a variety of illegal goods. And the only way to buy goods on the darknet website is through the use of cryptocurrency. So, those vendors, when they want to get real money from it, they go and they launder that cryptocurrency.”
Authorities have said the real cost of darknet marketplaces is the lives affected and lost by the use of illegal drugs. Investigators linked this group to more than 18,000 customers worldwide.
“It sends a message,” Kakkar said. “That we are going after drug trafficking, whether it be on the street or it be behind a computer.”