LOS ANGELES (CBSLA) — The so-called “dark-web” remains a mystery to most, with its use of cryptocurrencies and seemingly impenetrable flurry of illicit activity. However, investigators have been shedding some light on this underground market, exposing criminals dealing in it, not from darkly-lit, dank basements, but from the comfort of their homes in some of Los Angeles’ nicest neighborhoods.
At a secluded home above the hills of Studio City worth more than $2 million, neighbors tell of wild parties and music videos shoots, put on by people who didn’t even live there.
“These were ragers, and it felt like a casino after a while,” a woman who did not want to be identified told CBS2 News. “It was crazy.”
She and another neighbor called the police dozens of times for a year to complain about the noise and disruption that often went on well into the morning at the house.
Aside from the ruckus, she said “party girls were brought in by the van load, and there were drugs found on the front stoop.”
She said “sex parties” were happening, with people yelling, “Sex, sex, sex!”
While the partying was its own issue, she and other concerned residents also suspected something far more serious going on inside involving the man who rented the home.
His name is Richie Martinsen.
The 29-year-old has made no secret of his partying lifestyle on social media, describing himself as a “Host/Hospitality and Concierge.”
Recent encounters with the law indicate the “hospitality” Martinsen and his friends were managing might have been highly illegal. He and five friends were arrested this summer for their involvement in a massive drug ring, accused of selling narcotics, not just throughout the country, but across the world. They allegedly dealt in everything from marijuana to cocaine, opiates to LSD.
Authorities say they made their illicit gains via the dark web. It is only accessible through special software and allows buyers and sellers to remain anonymous or untraceable.
The underground business Martinsen and his crew built was one of the largest on the market, investigators say. Surprisingly, it ran out of a gated community in the quiet suburb of Altadena yet churned out nearly 80,000 orders of pot before it was shut down by federal agents; that was roughly 1,000 parcels a week.
The dark web is a definite money maker.
“We’re probably looking at billions of dollars in transactions,” Dr. Clifford Neuman, Director at USC’s Center for Computer Systems Security told CBS2.
“Anyone who is motivated to make a little money and has an internet connection has the opportunity to do something like this,” an agent with the federal Drug Enforcement Administration tells CBS2. His identity is hidden for safety.
As he outlines, the dark web is extremely easy to use, being essentially an Ebay-type operation with the same door-to-door service.
The agent says sellers are “tough to catch because one gram of heroin or methamphetamine or cocaine in an envelope is relatively hard to track in a sea of mail. That kind of stuff is really off the radar of everybody.”
Off the radar, that is, until someone deliberately lights it up.
Bryan Lemons, one of Martinsen’s five associates arrested, posted a video of himself partying with stacks of cash, brazen behavior that ultimately caught the attention of law enforcement.
The parties have stopped in the quiet gated community where all this took place, but residents are warning this can happen in anyone’s neighborhood.
As the neighbor of the former distribution house put it, “It could happen anywhere, and that’s the problem.”
Investigators say in the four years the house was operational, it sold drugs, not for cash, but for $7 million worth of the digital cryptocurrency Bitcoin.
CBS2 was not able to reach the suspects for comment. They are still awaiting their day in court.