Audrey Strauss, the United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York, announced that ARIEL TAVAREZ, a/k/a “A,” a/k/a “Mike,” pled guilty today in Manhattan federal court to conspiring to distribute heroin, cocaine, fentanyl, and a fentanyl analogue, and to distributing narcotics that caused the 2018 death of Colin Kroll, the co-founder of the video hosting service Vine and the trivia game application HQ Trivia. TAVAREZ pled guilty before United States District Judge Katherine Polk Failla.
U.S. Attorney Audrey Strauss said: “For years, Ariel Tavarez operated a covert on-demand delivery service for the distribution of highly addictive and dangerous drugs. Tavarez and his underlings peddled their poison, which Tavarez sometimes secretly laced with deadly synthetic opioids, throughout New York City. Thanks to the tireless efforts of law enforcement, Mike’s Candyshop is permanently closed.”
According to the allegations in the Indictment, and statements made in Court:
TAVAREZ was the leader of a drug trafficking organization (the “DTO”) that engaged in a drug delivery service, which identified itself as “Mike’s Candyshop.” The DTO delivered heroin and cocaine (sometimes laced with fentanyl and a fentanyl analogue) on demand to customers in New York City, and distributed numerous kilograms of heroin and cocaine throughout the course of the conspiracy. Mike’s Candyshop generally operated seven days per week, from approximately 6:00 p.m. to 12:00 a.m., with the exception of major holidays such as Thanksgiving, New Year’s Eve, and Labor Day.
Customers of the DTO placed delivery orders via text message to a centralized phone number (the “Candyshop Number”). The operator of the Candyshop Number was usually TAVAREZ. Using the Candyshop Number, TAVAREZ accepted customer orders and subsequently arranged for a courier working for the DTO to deliver the narcotics to the customer, usually within hours of the customer texting his or her order to the Candyshop Number. Certain of the DTO members, including Christian Baez, Luis Meson, a/k/a “Sito,” Gregoris Martinez, a/k/a “Greg,” Kevin Grullon, a/k/a “Kev,” a/k/a “JB,” and Jeffrey Urena, a/k/a “Jeff,” a/k/a “Jay,” served as couriers for the DTO, and regularly delivered and sold narcotics to the DTO’s customers in hand-to-hand drug transactions coordinated through the Candyshop Number.
The DTO stored heroin, cocaine, a fentanyl analogue, and cash from drug sales in various stash locations maintained by the DTO, including in Brooklyn, New York. In an effort to avoid law enforcement detection, the DTO sold only to customers who had been referred by existing customers, periodically changed the Candyshop Number, used coded language to discuss narcotics, and delivered narcotics directly to customers at locations specified by the customer. As a means of marketing its cocaine, and to ensure that the DTO’s customers knew the cocaine provided by the couriers belonged to the DTO, the DTO sold its cocaine in vials sealed with different colored tops.
On or about December 16, 2018, Colin Kroll, a customer of the DTO, died of a drug overdose in New York, New York. The narcotics that caused Kroll’s death – cocaine, heroin, fentanyl, and a fentanyl analogue – were purchased from Mike’s Candyshop on the evening of December 14, 2018.
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TAVAREZ pled guilty to one count of conspiring to distribute heroin, cocaine, fentanyl, and a fentanyl analogue, the use of which resulted in the death of Colin Kroll on or about December 16, 2018. This count carries a statutory mandatory minimum term of 20 years in prison and maximum penalty of life in prison. The maximum and mandatory minimum penalties are prescribed by Congress and are provided here for informational purposes only, as any sentencing of the defendant would be determined by the judge.
TAVAREZ is scheduled to be sentenced by Judge Failla on November 23, 2021.
Baez, Meson, Martinez, Grullon, and Urena each previously entered a plea of guilty to participating in the Mike’s Candyshop narcotics trafficking conspiracy. Martinez was sentenced on June 29, 2021, to 72 months in prison by Judge Failla. Baez, Meson, Grullon, and Urena will be sentenced later this year by Judge Failla.
Ms. Strauss praised the outstanding investigative work of Homeland Security Investigations, the Drug Enforcement Administration, the New York City Police Department, and the Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Force. This prosecution is part of an Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Forces (OCDETF) operation. OCDETF identifies, disrupts, and dismantles the highest-level criminal organizations that threaten the United States using a prosecutor-led, intelligence-driven, multi-agency approach. Additional information about the OCDETF Program can be found at https://www.justice.gov/OCDETF.
The prosecution is being handled by the Office’s Narcotics Unit. Assistant United States Attorneys Mollie Bracewell, Nicholas W. Chiuchiolo, and Aline R. Flodr are in charge of the prosecution.