Melissa Scanlan (a/k/a “The Drug Llama”) has been sentenced to 160 months in federal prison in the
United States District Court for the Southern District of Illinois for trafficking fentanyl
throughout the United States via the “dark web,” engaging in an international money laundering
conspiracy, and distributing fentanyl that results in death.
The crimes for which Scanlan was sentenced 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. The 32-year old San Diego native pleaded
guilty to those charges in October 2019. Scanlan’s co-conspirator, Brandon Arias, 34, was
previously sentenced to nine years in federal prison for his role in the conspiracy.
Facts disclosed in open 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
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.
According to court records, Scanlan and Arias made over $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 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.” U.S. Attorney Steven D.
Weinhoeft also noted that this 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 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.”
This case was part of a months-long, coordinated national operation involving the Food and Drug
Administration – Office of Criminal Investigations, the Drug Enforcement Administration, the United
States Postal Inspection Service, the Department of Homeland Security, United States Customs and
Border Protection, 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 the case.
1 The dark web is an underground computer network that is unreachable by traditional search engines and Web Browsers. This false cloak has led to a proliferation of criminal marketplaces, like the one used by Scanlan and Arias.