A Cerritos man faces federal charges of running a large-scale operation that sold fentanyl on the darknet, U.S. Department of Justice officials announced Monday.
Christopher Hampton, 36, was named in an 11-count indictment charging him with numerous narcotics and weapons offenses that could result in a life sentence in federal prison.
Hampton was allegedly active on nine darknet marketplaces where he used the name “Narco710,” officials detailed.
He was arrested Nov. 2 after several federal agencies served search warrants and found 450 pounds of suspected narcotics, six pill-press machines — some of which were capable of producing thousands of pills per hour — and illegal firearms that included assault rifles and a suspected machine gun. Agents also found more than 20,000 multi-colored pills containing fentanyl — so-called “skittles” — manufactured to resemble oxycodone pills.
Hampton’s organization allegedly obtained bulk fentanyl and operated labs in Inglewood and Compton that used high-speed pill presses to create fake pills containing fentanyl and methamphetamine. They then allegedly sold millions of pills to thousands of customers on the darknet.
The indictment accuses Hampton of selling nearly $2 million worth of narcotics on just two darknet marketplaces that he and his co-conspirators controlled.
Hampton is being held without bond and is scheduled to be arraigned in federal court on Wednesday.
Federal law enforcement officials on Monday detailed their ongoing efforts to eliminate organizations like Hampton’s from mass producing fake pills that contain fentanyl.
Aside from public outreach and efforts like the “One Pill Can Kill” campaign, officials continue to target street-level dealers who sell products that have led to fentanyl poisoning, as well as those who traffic wholesale quantities of fentanyl and counterfeit pharmaceutical pills produced by drug cartels.
“Violent drug cartels, specifically the Sinaloa Cartel and Jalisco New Generation Cartel, are deliberately pushing deadly fentanyl into our communities with complete disregard for human lives in an effort to maximize their profits,” DEA Los Angeles Special Agent in Charge Bill Bodner said. “Drug poisonings and drug-caused deaths are affecting families across the nation and killing Americans, teens and adults, at historic rates. We are targeting any individual responsible in the drug supply chain – from high-level drug traffickers to street level dealers – who deceptively sell this poison and create further addiction.”
Identifying dealers on the darknet
The investigation into Hampton was conducted by the FBI-led Joint Criminal Opioid Darknet Enforcement Team (or J-CODE), which targets vendors by using high-tech strategies to identify drug traffickers.
Since its inception, J-CODE has led to the arrests of more than 300 darknet traffickers and the seizure of $42 million, 800 kilograms of drugs and 145 guns, Don Alway, the assistant director in charge of the FBI’s Los Angeles Field Office, said.
“Every parent and guardian must educate themselves and their children of all ages about poisonous fentanyl-laced drugs being sold on social media applications and via the darknet,” he said. “These enforcement efforts, as well as educating buyers, will have an impact on this scourge to society which is taking lives in unprecedented numbers.”
Prosecuting overdose deaths
Federal officials have touted the ongoing efforts to prosecute people arrested in connection with overdose deaths.
The DEA-led Overdose Justice Task force is designed to investigate fentanyl poisonings and identify the dealer who sold the drugs that caused a death, officials detailed.
Since the project launched around four years ago, the U.S. Attorney’s Office has filed charges against 51 people who allegedly sold drugs that resulted in an overdose, officials said, and “nearly all” of those cases involved fentanyl, while some cases involved multiple deaths.
For example, Jason Amin Soheili, 27, of Laguna Hills, has agreed to plead guilty to two counts of distribution of fentanyl resulting in death. He is expected to enter his pleas early next month and has agreed to serve a prison sentence of at least 20 years.
Soheili was arrested in May 2021 on suspicion of mailing at least two fake oxycodone pills containing fentanyl to a man in Utah. The victim died on Feb. 21, 2021, and only five weeks later, Soheili provided fentanyl-laced cocaine to another victim who later died in his bedroom at his parents’ home in Aliso Viejo, officials said.
Ties to Mexican cartels
Federal officials continue to investigate dangerous drugs being transported and delivered in wholesale quantities.
Many of those investigations target large-scale operations trafficking fentanyl, most of which is produced by Mexico-based carrels that are marketing the powerful narcotic more than ever, officials said.
“With Los Angeles’ close proximity to the U.S.-Mexico border, it has become one of the largest fentanyl distribution hubs,” Eddy Wang, Homeland Security Investigations’ Los Angeles special agent in charge, said. “HSI Los Angeles has prioritized the targeting of fentanyl traffickers and will work tirelessly with our federal, state, local, and international partners to remove this deadly poison from our streets.”
Other recent fentanyl busts
This year, authorities have seized massive shipments of fentanyl and fentanyl-laced fake pills, officials said.
During an operation in Inglewood this summer, authorities intercepted a shipment of nearly 1 million fake pills laced with fentanyl.
Then, in late October, DEA agents working with the Hawthorne Police Department seized more than 800,000 fake pills containing fentanyl, officials said.
George Ramirez, 34, of San Diego, was identified as the person who delivered the shipment. He was arrested on Oct. 28 and is currently being held without bond.