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SD man indicted in 'darknet' undercover operation

SIOUX FALLS—A 49-year-old Sioux Falls man has been arrested in a national undercover operation targeting illegal vendors on the underground internet called the "darknet."

John Edward Monette is charged with illegally exchanging bitcoins for U.S. currency in the amount of about $19,000 and also receiving numerous international mail packages containing the hallucinogenic and stimulant pills called ecstasy.

The shadowy darknet or dark web consists of masked IP addresses and a hidden internet that people don't have access to without a specific way to get there, usually through a certain web browser.

The national Department of Justice called the yearlong investigation Operation Dark Gold, which would focus on "taking down darknet" marketplaces and vendors.

Monette was indicted in federal court in Sioux Falls on the charge of conspiracy to distribute a controlled substance.

According to U.S. Attorney for South Dakota Ron Parsons, Monette was one of more than 35 people arrested and charged with using the underground internet to make illegal transactions and selling tens of thousands of illicit goods.

Parsons said special agents from a U.S. attorney's office in New York posed as money launderers in the operation exchanging U.S currency for virtual currency or bitcoins.

Those arrests, Parsons said, involved the seizure of weapons, drugs and money totaling more than $23.6 million.

In total, 90 cases nationwide have been opened as result of the operation, thought to be the first of its kind in the U.S.

Monette exchanged bitcoins on numerous occasions between May 31, 2017, and Oct. 24, 2017, said the indictment.

Parsons said that ecstasy, or MDMA, is an illegal synthetic drug that is used mostly by teens or young adults and that Monette received "numerous" shipments of the drug from overseas.

Nationwide, Parsons said the arrests of the vendors resulted in the seizure of massive amounts of illegal narcotics, including 333 bottles of liquid synthetic opioids, 100,000 tramadol pills, 100 grams of fentanyl, along with oxycodone, cocaine, LSD, marijuana and psychedelic mushrooms.

Also seized, he said, were more than 100 firearms, a grenade launcher, $3.6 million in U.S. currency and gold bars, $20 million in bitcoins and other cryptocurrencies, bitcoin mining devices and 15 pill presses used to create illegal synthetic opioids.

Some of the major players involved, according to indictments, were from New York, Maryland, Ohio and Vermont.

The investigation is ongoing.