Department of Justice
U.S. Attorney’s Office
Southern District of Illinois
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Friday, November 1, 2019
California Woman Known as “The Drug Llama” Pleads Guilty to Conspiracy, Trafficking Fentanyl on the Dark Web, International Money Laundering, and Fentanyl Distribution Resulting in Death
This afternoon, Melissa Scanlan, 32, appeared at the federal courthouse in East St. Louis, Illinois, and pleaded guilty to all ten felony charges pending against her in the Southern District
of Illinois, admitting her role in a nearly two-year conspiracy to distribute fentanyl throughout the United States via the “dark web.”1 Scanlan was one of two people known on the dark web as “The Drug Llama.” The other person, co-defendant Brandon Arias, 34, pleaded guilty to all eight charges against him earlier this year. Both Scanlan and Arias are natives of San Diego, California.
The ten charges to which Scanlan pleaded guilty are as follows: one count of conspiracy to distribute fentanyl, five counts of distributing fentanyl, one count of selling counterfeit drugs, one count of misbranding drugs, one count of conspiracy to commit international money laundering, and one count of distribution of fentanyl resulting in death.
Fentanyl is a highly addictive and oftentimes lethal opioid painkiller.
As part of her guilty plea, Scanlan admitted that she and Arias created an account on “Dream Market,” a dark web marketplace where users buy and sell illegal substances and services, and used that account to sell substantial quantities of narcotics while operating under the moniker, “The Drug Llama.” The charged fentanyl distribution conspiracy lasted from October 2016 to August 2018, during which time Scanlan sold approximately 52,000 fentanyl pills throughout the United States.
The dark web is an underground computer network that is unreachable by traditional search engines and web browsers, creating a seeming anonymity to users. This false cloak has led to a proliferation of criminal activity on dark web marketplaces, like the one used by Scanlan and Arias.
According to court records, Scanlan and Arias made over $100,000 from their dark web drug trafficking and split the money evenly. Scanlan further admitted her participation in an international money laundering conspiracy with Mexican cartel members, as well as her role in aiding and abetting the distribution of fentanyl pills to a woman identified as A.W., who died as a result of taking those pills.
Commenting on the case, U.S. Attorney Steven D. Weinhoeft assailed the culture of criminality that exists on the dark web. “Criminals like Melissa Scanlan who recklessly flood our communities with opioids may think they can evade detection in the shadowy corners and back alleys of the internet. But they will find no quarter there. Where they go, we will follow. With the collaboration of outstanding investigators at our partner agencies, we will use every tool and method available to find these people and prosecute them to the fullest extent of the law.”
“Illicit opioid distribution, whether online or through conventional drug distribution methods, and the resulting overdoses and deaths are a continuing national crisis; those who contribute to that crisis through their illegal actions will be brought to justice,” said Special Agent in Charge Charles L. Grinstead, FDA Office of Criminal Investigations Kansas City Field Office. “We are fully committed to disrupting and dismantling illegal prescription drug distribution networks that misuse the internet at the expense of public health and safety.”
“With accessibility of fentanyl, it is imperative that the Drug Enforcement Administration and its law enforcement partners exploit all distribution avenues utilized by drug traffickers in Scanlan’s case,” stated DEA Special Agent in Charge William J. Callahan of the St. Louis Division. “Scanlan distributed poison in our community that resulted in death and she is now being held accountable.”
Scanlan has been held in federal custody since her September 2018 arrest. Her case is set for sentencing before the Honorable Nancy J. Rosenstengel, Chief United States District Judge for the Southern District of Illinois, on February 10, 2020, at 1:30 pm. By law, Scanlan faces no less than 20 years in prison for distributing fentanyl resulting in death. She could receive up to life imprisonment and as much as $10 million in fines.
This case was part of a months-long, coordinated national operation involving the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), Office of Criminal Investigations (OCI), the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), the United States Postal Inspection Service, the Department of Homeland Security (HSI), United States Customs and Border Protection (CBP), 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. Assistant U.S. Attorney Derek J. Wiseman is the prosecuting attorney on this case.
USAO - Illinois, Southern