According to United States Attorney Ron Parson, Seven South Dakota residents have been sentenced to federal prison for their role in a large dark web methamphetamine conspiracy. Court reports state that all of the seven culprits from South Dakota were handed a mandatory minimum prison sentence of 10 years and a maximum of a life sentence in federal prison. Each of them, however, pleaded guilty to charges and accepted shorter prison term deals.
31-year-old Justin Robert Christensen, the leader of the dark web ring was sentenced to 23 years in federal prison coupled with 10-year supervised probation on February 10, 2020, in Sioux Falls. Christensen pleaded guilty to the dark web meth conspiracy charges as well as a money-laundering scheme.
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According to investigators, the South Dakota man ordered over 10 pounds of methamphetamine from the dark web and had it delivered through the U.S mail. The U.S Attorney’s office also stated that, after receiving the drugs from the dark web, he then distributed it to his fellow South Dakota residents and co-defendants, who sold it to their connections.
Christensen got the lengthiest sentence amongst the culprits as he was the leader and according to Attorney Parson, he also did the retail sales and collections. The 31-year-old as part of his plea deal admitted to using several dark web marketplaces to buy methamphetamine and had it mailed to him in South Dakota. He also confessed to distributing the drug to his co-conspirators and other drug dealers in South Dakota and other locations.
Christensen told the court that, as a co-conspirator, he was responsible for depositing the cash proceeds from the sales of the illegal drug into several banks in South Dakota. He also bought Bitcoin through an account on Coinbase, created in his name. Christensen added that all of that was done in a bid to conceal or disguise the control of the criminal proceeds so that he could use the money to place several orders of methamphetamine and other controlled substances on the dark web. He was facing up to life in prison sentence before accepting a deal with federal prosecutors.
His plea deal with prosecutors saw an earlier charge of being a felon in possession of firearms dropped. He, however, agreed as part to the deal to forfeit a Beretta Luger-style semi-automatic pistol, a three 12-gauge shotguns and two semi-automatic A-style rifles. According to court documents, Christensen made over $200,000 in criminal proceeds and laundered it through the dark web to throw off the feds from his activities.
Two other co-conspirators, 44-year-old Tanya Jeanette Andrews and 26-year-old Paris Bryn Koller both of Pierre, were sentenced to 10 years in federal prison last year for their role in the dark web conspiracy. Both women were also handed five-year supervised probation. 44-year old Andrews was still a fugitive at large when a second superseding indictment was announced in May 2019. A federal judge, however, ordered the list of charges against the culprits to be sealed from the public until Andrews, who was charged under the indictment was arrested. Andrews reportedly used the last names of Santiago, Ponce, and Hightower while on the run to avoid law enforcement, according to court documents.
The two Pierre women admitted separately to participating in the methamphetamine conspiracy at an unknown date until November 7, 2018. They both obtained the drug from the ring leader and sold it to their customers in the Sioux Falls area. Koller, in her factual basis statement which was part of her plea deal in June 2019, stated that, during her involvement with the dark web methamphetamine conspiracy, she introduced several customers to Christensen, their ring leader.
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She added that they began purchasing methamphetamine from her co-conspirator of which she arranged and agreed to. She also admitted to selling the drug to other customers in Sioux Falls. Koller was sentenced to prison on September 23, 2019, by U.S District Judge Karen Schreier in Sioux Falls. She was also previously handed a state prison sentence on a drug charge and is still on parole in that case and is now going to serve another sentence.
Andrews who also admitted in August 2019, to being a part of the conspiracy and selling methamphetamine to people was also handed the same sentence by Judge Schreier on December 2, 2019. Andrews had also served two prison sentences in Pierre before this sentence. She was sentenced to 9 years, seven months with an additional four years suspended in Sioux Falls for a drug crime and again sentenced to 10 years on a second similar charge. Andrews was however related as her first parole hearing after serving 17 months. She was once again sentenced to 5 years in prison in Rapid City on January 19, 2018, for another drug-related charge. She is still active on parole with the state Department of Corrections.
There is however no parole option in the federal prison sentence but inmates still get 54 years knocked off every year for what is known as “good time.” The other co-conspirators of the dark web drug ring are 32-year-old Amanda Leigh Wieman, of Sioux Falls, 26-year-old Nicholas Scott Flier, of Valley Springs, 31-year-old Kasie Mae Vogt, of Armour, and 25-year-old Brandon Alan Watters, 25, of Sioux Falls. Each of these co-conspirators admitted to charges and were sentenced to 10 years in federal prison and 5 years of supervised probation in the latter stages of 2019.
Attorney Parsons stated that this investigation was made possible with the help of the Sioux Falls Area Drug Task Force, Homeland Security Investigations, Assistant U.S. Attorney Jennifer Mammenga prosecuting and the U.S. Postal Inspection Service.
Source: Argus Leader
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