Within one month, two people in South Carolina were sentenced in separate federal cases after prosecutors said fentanyl they sold on the dark web caused deadly overdoses.
Ana Milena Barrero of Greenville was sentenced to 15 years in May. Just a few weeks later, Robert Bryan Mansfield of Ladson was sentenced in a separate case in federal court in Charleston.
“The geographic expanse was nationwide,” said Andrew Moorman, Deputy Criminal Chief, Narcotics Unit with the U.S. Attorney’s Office who prosecuted Barrero’s case. Another defendant in Barrero’s case, her boyfriend Theodore Khleborod, died in jail while awaiting trial.
“There were multiple counts and multiple indictments,” Moorman said. “The most serious count was count one, which alleged that the two participated in a drug conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute U47700 — fentanyl — and other drugs.” Investigators said two individuals who purchased the drugs died from overdoses. A third person suffered serious bodily injury.
Barrero and Khleborod were accused of using a website known as AlphaBay to sell drugs across the country. The U.S. Justice Department eventually shut down AlphaBay, calling it the largest criminal marketplace on the internet.
“The dark web is definitely emerging as a tool drug distributors are using to interface with customers and to distribute the drugs,” Moorman said. “It is a threat that is very real. It is one that law enforcement is prepared to deal with, as this case shows.”
The investigation into Barrero and Khleborod started with a 2017 overdose death in Portland, Oregon.
“Law enforcement searched that residence and found items of evidence that proved to be important in determining who had distributed those drugs to that victim,” Moorman said. “That was, sort of, the first clue that law enforcement was able to obtain that helped them realize that Theodore Khleborod was the individual who was associated with that account and after identifying Khleborod, that was, sort of the break law enforcement needed to begin to hone in on Mr. Khleborod and Anna Barrero.”
A second victim died of an overdose in Minnesota.
Khleborod and Barrero were arrested in 2017 and investigators searched the couple’s apartment in downtown Greenville. Police seized approximately 43 pounds of substances they believe to be opioids during the search.
Barrero pleaded guilty to conspiracy to distribute drugs, admitting the fentanyl involved had contributed to at least two deaths. Had Khleborod been convicted, he faced a sentence of 20 years to life.
Evidence from the AlphaBay investigation was used in Barrero’s case.
“In this case, we dealt with a prolific vendor who used AlphaBay to sell drugs,” Moorman said. “The department, as a whole, prosecuted AlphaBay itself… and as a result of that effort, AlphaBay is no longer.”
As to the victims in this case, Moorman recalled their families testifying at Barrero’s sentencing.
“I think there’s a good argument that they were just like you and I. They had jobs. They were productive citizens. They had obligations at home that they attended to,” he described. “These victims left behind very loving families and their families are devastated, as you can imagine. And seeing the emotion associated with the loss that these families have suffered, hearing how much they loved the victims.”
In the Mansfield case, investigators determined his shipment of fentanyl was responsible for a 2016 overdose death. Mansfield was sentenced to 20 years in prison followed by five years of supervised release.
“More than 20,000 Americans were killed last year by fentanyl and similar drugs and that number continues to rise,” Special Agent in Charge of Homeland Security Investigations Atlanta Nick Annan said. “Homeland Security Investigations is committed to continuing to work with our law enforcement partners to do all we can to stop the illegal flow of fentanyl into the country, dismantle international opioid smuggling rings and prevent this serious crisis from spreading any further.”
Moorman said the dark web is the latest front in the effort to top the flow of dangerous narcotics.
“Drugs kill people and they destroy families,” Moorman said. “Drug use and drug distribution can have utterly devastating effects. If you’re a drug dealer, whether you’re using the dark web, whether you’re on a street corner, the Department of Justice and other federal, state and local law enforcement entities are committed to investigating your activity and you’re going to be prosecuted.”