The U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Illinois Shines a Light into the Dark Web
A San Diego resident has been indicted in the Southern District of Illinois for conspiring to distribute fentanyl throughout the United States via the "dark web," U.S. Attorney Steven D. Weinhoeft announced today. The charges carry a mandatory minimum 10 year prison sentence.
The indictment alleges that Melissa Scanlan, 31, of San Diego, California, who is known on the dark web as "The Drug Llama," conspired to distribute misbranded fentanyl pills throughout the United States. Fentanyl is a highly addictive and oftentimes lethal opioid painkiller. According to the indictment, the fentanyl distribution conspiracy lasted from at least October 1, 2016, and continued until August 2, 2018. The indictment also alleges that Scanlan was part of an international money laundering conspiracy.
An indictment is a formal charge against a defendant. Under the law, that charge is merely an accusation and the defendant is presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.
Scanlan was arrested in San Diego and made her first court appearance in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of California on September 6, 2018. At her detention hearing on Monday, September 17, 2018, prosecutors alleged that Scanlan was responsible for shipping over 50,000 fentanyl pills across the country, including into southern Illinois. Scanlan was ordered detained based on risk of flight and danger to the community pending her removal to the Southern District of Illinois to face charges.
The dark web is a part of the internet that is unreachable by traditional search engines and web browsers. Websites on the dark web have complex web addresses generated by a computer algorithm and must be accessed using special software that is capable of connecting to "The Onion Router" network, or "TOR" for short. The TOR network is encrypted and routes internet traffic dynamically through a series of computers around the world, concealing the true Internet Protocol (IP) addresses of the computers accessing the network and thereby making internet use virtually anonymous. This perceived anonymity has led to a proliferation of criminal activity on dark web marketplaces, like "Dream Market," where users can find vendors offering illegal goods and services for sale.
The indictment against Scanlan alleges that she conspired with others to operate an illegal drug distribution business on one of those dark web marketplaces using the moniker "The Drug Llama." It is further alleged that Scanlan and her co-conspirators distributed more than 400 grams of fentanyl throughout the United States.
This case was part of a months-long, coordinated national operation involving the Food and Drug Administration Office of Criminal Investigations (FDA), the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), the United States Postal Inspection Service, the Department of Homeland Security (HSI), United States Customs and Border Protection (CPB), the United States Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of California, and the United States Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of Illinois.
"The dark web is a dangerous underworld where anonymous web browsers and cryptocurrencies combine to create the perfect breeding ground for criminal activity," said United States Attorney Steven D. Weinhoeft. "We will continue to shine light into the dark web to expose those who lurk in the shadows of the internet." Weinhoeft credited the leadership of the Federal Drug Administration for dedicating technical resources to further this important opioid investigation.
"The dark web is a virtual marketplace for drug dealers and other criminals who are seeking the anonymity that only the digital world can provide," said U.S. Attorney Adam Braverman for the Southern District of California. "But there’s nowhere we won’t go to find them, particularly when fentanyl is involved and lives are at stake. The key to success is relentless pursuit and collaboration with our law enforcement partners around the country."
"Illegal opioid distribution and the resulting overdoses and deaths are an enormous national crisis," said FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb, M.D. "Our agency will continue to disrupt and dismantle illegal prescription drug distribution networks that misuse the internet at the expense of public health and safety."
"The Drug Enforcement Administration, along with our local, state and federal partners will continue to work relentlessly to track down those who traffic in pharmaceutical narcotics illegally," said Special Agent in Charge William J. Callahan of the DEA St. Louis Division. "Pharmaceutical narcotics are meant to be taken under the supervision and guidance of a medical professional and are not safe outside of that medical relationship. As a community we must work together to educate and prevent the misuse and abuse of pharmaceutical narcotics and as a law enforcement agency we will continue to track down traffickers who believe they can hide behind anonymity on the dark web."
U.S. Attorney Weinhoeft recognized the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of California, FDA, DEA, HSI, CPB, the U.S. Postal Inspection Service, and other state and federal partners for their work in the investigation. The case is being prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorney Derek J. Wiseman.