‘Drug Llama’ sentenced to 13 years for trafficking opioids

Chronicle Media

Melissa Scanlan (Facebook photo)

A woman known as “The Drug Llama” for her “dark web” fentanyl trafficking has been sentenced to more than 13 years in federal prison.

Melissa Scanlan, 32, was sentenced to 13 years and 4 months in prison during her Feb. 12 court appearance in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Illinois.

Scanlan trafficked fentanyl throughout the United States via the dark web, engaging in an international money-laundering conspiracy and distributing fentanyl that resulted in a death.

The dark web is an underground computer network that is unreachable by traditional search engines and web browsers. The false cloak has led to a proliferation of criminal marketplaces, like the one used by Scanlan and a co-conspirator.

The crimes for which Scanlan was sentenced are: 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. The San Diego native pleaded guilty to the charges in October.

Scanlan’s co-conspirator, Brandon Arias, 34, was previously sentenced to nine years in federal prison for his role in the trafficking.

Facts disclosed in court revealed that Scanlan and Arias created an account on “Dream Market,”
a dark web1 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

The fentanyl distribution conspiracy lasted from October 2016 to August 2018, during which time Scanlan sold 52,000 fentanyl pills throughout the United States.

According to court records, Scanlan and Arias made more than $100,000 from their dark web drug
trafficking and split the money evenly. Court records also demonstrated Scanlan’s 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 later

Commenting on the case, U.S. Attorney Steven 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,” Weinhoeft said. “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.”

Weinhoeft also noted that the prosecution further underscores the critical need for Congress to
permanently criminalize fentanyl analogues.

“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 Grinstead of the 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 Callahan of the St. Louis Division. “Scanlan
distributed poison in our community that resulted in death and she is now being held accountable.”

The case was part of a months-long, coordinated national operation involving the Food and Drug
Administration – Office of Criminal Investigations, Drug Enforcement Administration, U.S. Postal Inspection Service, Department of Homeland Security, U.S. Customs and Border Protection, U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of California, and U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of Illinois.