A former vendor of the Vice City darknet marketplace will spend six and a half years in prison after being sentenced for charges related to fentanyl distribution on Friday, Apr. 7th. John McKernan, 32, of Scottsdale, Arizona, operated on Vice City under the vendor name KingofKeys from Aug 2021 to May 2022, when he was banned from the market.
After his ban, McKernan used an encrypted messaging application to continue his vending operation, selling over 450 fake Oxycontin pills to undercover law enforcement in exchange for Bitcoin between May and July 2022. Although McKernan advertised his pills as genuine, which featured the famous “M30” stamp on them, they contained no oxycodone, with fentanyl being the primary active ingredient.
According to a review left on the Dread forum, the pills were sold for just $3 each. “I don’t know where he went, he started getting 100+ orders a week and just vanished,” according to a reviewer on Dread in a June 2022 post, written one month after KingofKeys was banned from Vice City. “He has the best presses I’ve ever had,” they added.
In addition to fake Oxycontin pills, McKernan sold MDMA, Cialis, and pressed Xanax pills.
The investigation that led to the identification and arrest of McKernan was carried out by the FBI Washington Field Office’s Hi-Tech Opioid Task Force, which was formed specifically to track and identify vendors on “the most egregious darknet markets.” The investigation was also assisted by the FBI Phoenix Division, the US Postal Inspection Service, and the Scottsdale Police Department.
According to the US Centers for Disease Control (CDC), the number of deaths from synthetic opioids such as fentanyl began to rise faster than ever after the onset of covid, with a 56% uptick in overdose deaths between the years of 2019 and 2020. Over 107,000 are estimated to have died from overdoses on such substances in the US between Nov. 2021 and Nov. 2022.