American Justice Notebook

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Calif. Duo Who Allegedly Used Darknet to Sell Fentanyl and Cocaine Indicted

          LOS ANGELES 

A federal grand jury indicted a San Fernando Valley man and woman who allegedly used darknet marketplaces to sell hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of fentanyl-laced pills and cocaine nationwide, officials announced Thursday.

          Brian McDonald, 22, of Van Nuys, whose aliases include “Malachai Johnson,” “SouthSideOxy,” and “JefeDeMichoacan,” and Ciara Clutario, 22, of Burbank, were charged in an eight-count indictment returned Wednesday.

          Both defendants are charged with one count of conspiracy to distribute fentanyl and cocaine, five counts of distribution of fentanyl, and one count of distribution of cocaine.

McDonald is also charged with one count of possession of firearms in furtherance of a drug trafficking crime.

          McDonald has been in federal custody since his arrest in this case on May 4. Clutario is expected to make her initial appearance in the coming weeks.

         According to the indictment, from at least April 2021 until May 2023, McDonald, Clutario and others conspired to sell fentanyl and cocaine via darknet marketplaces such as “White House Market,” “ToRReZ” and “AlphaBay.” McDonald, using aliases, created vendor profiles on these marketplaces to sell illegal drugs in exchange for cryptocurrency, the indictment alleges.

          McDonald and Clutario allegedly maintained the darknet vendor profiles by updating drug listings and shipment options, tracking online drug orders, and offloading Monero cryptocurrency received as drug deal payments into cryptocurrency wallets that McDonald controlled.

          McDonald allegedly recruited and hired accomplices – including Clutario – to help with packaging and shipping the narcotics they sold on the darknet.

McDonald directed Clutario and other co-conspirators on how to package and ship the narcotics, and the indictment alleges that he assisted them in the packaging and shipping.

          The indictment alleges that in May 2021 – one week after McDonald created a darknet vendor profile to sell illegal drugs – he texted Clutario to tell her that their darknet drug sales were “flourish[ing].” Later that month, McDonald allegedly texted a co-conspirator that he had just sold 20,000 pills to customers.

          In June 2021, McDonald allegedly texted an accomplice that he had 34 drug orders he had to fill.

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Photo by Giorgio Trovato on Unsplash

The following month, in text messages to Clutario about the conspiracy’s goals, McDonald stated, “i’m really tryna make like 5 mil,” according to the indictment.

          After being converted from cryptocurrency into cash, the proceeds from the drug sales allegedly were stored by McDonald and Clutario at their respective residences.

They shipped fentanyl and cocaine that were sold for hundreds of thousands of dollars, according to the indictment.

          McDonald also allegedly possessed firearms, specifically two gold-plated handguns – one without a serial number – to protect his drug trafficking business and the proceeds of drug sales made on darknet marketplaces.

The defendants are presumed innocent unless proven guilty.

                   In convicted of all charges, McDonald and Clutario face up to life in prison.

The FBI and the Drug Enforcement Administration are investigating this matter as part of JCODE.

The Justice Department established the FBI-led JCODE team to lead and coordinate government efforts to detect, disrupt, and dismantle major criminal enterprises reliant on the darknet for trafficking opioids and other illicit narcotics and identifying and dismantling their supply chains. 

          Assistant U.S. Attorneys Declan T. Conroy and Ian V. Yanniello of the General Crimes Section are prosecuting this case.