SAN DIEGO — A local woman has been indicted by a federal grand jury for allegedly using the “dark web” to distribute fentanyl that caused multiple overdoses, including the death of a baby boy from San Diego County.
The indictment alleges that 31-year-old Melissa Scanlan is known on the dark web as “The Drug Llama,” and that she conspired to distribute misbranded fentanyl pills throughout the United States. Fentanyl is a highly addictive and oftentimes lethal opioid painkiller.
Scanlan is suspected of selling fentanyl that killed a 10-month-old boy and a woman in San Diego County in separate instances last September, the San Diego Union-Tribune reports. In one case, Scanlan is suspected of selling fentanyl to a father, who then allegedly left the drugs within reach of his infant. The baby was found unresponsive in bed with his parents.
The second overdose victim was a 41-year-old woman.
According to the indictment, the fentanyl distribution conspiracy lasted from Oct. 1, 2016, until Aug. 2 of this year.
At her detention hearing Monday in San Diego federal court, prosecutors alleged that Scanlan was responsible for shipping more than 50,000 fentanyl pills across the country, including into the Southern District of Illinois, and that she was Scanlan was part of an international money laundering conspiracy. Scanlan was ordered detained, based on risk of flight and danger to the community, pending her removal to Illinois.
Online, Scanlan describes herself as a “young professional that specializes in Operations Management for Start-up, Small, and Mid-Size Business,” the San Diego Union-Tribune reports.
Her past employment includes IriSys, a San Diego pharmaceutical product development and manufacturing service, according to her LinkedIn profile. Her duties there included ordering raw materials and managing overhead costs, resulting in reduced costs by 62% over two years, she said.
Her latest venture is Luxury Carbon Fiber, a business that “ingeniously designs and manufactures Carbon Fiber products for the ‘Modern Gentleman,’” according to its crowdfunder.com site. Advertised products include money clips, leather business card holders and laptop cases.
Prosecutors said in many of the parcels sent to undercover agents, fentanyl pills were contained in the same kind of leather pouches.
Dealing on the dark web
“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 Adam Braverman, U.S. Attorney 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.”
The dark web is unreachable by traditional search engines and web browsers. Websites on the dark web have complex 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. That 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 alleges Scanlan conspired with others to operate an illegal drug distribution business on one of those dark web marketplaces using the moniker “The Drug Llama,” and that she and her co-conspirators distributed fentanyl throughout the United States.
The case was part of a months-long national operation involving the Food and Drug Administration’s Office of Criminal Investigations, Drug Enforcement Administration, United States Postal Inspection Service, Department of Homeland Security, United States Customs and Border Protection, and the United States Attorney’s Offices for the Southern District of California and the Southern District of Illinois.