TEXAS – Federal, state and local authorities have arrested 13 individuals, including current and former University of Texas (UT) students, charged in connection with trafficking LSD, fentanyl and methamphetamine pills to UT students in Austin.
That announcement was made today by U.S. Attorney Gregg N. Sofer; Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) Special Agent in Charge Steven S. Whipple, Houston Division; FBI Special Agent in Charge Christopher Combs, San Antonio Field Office; Internal Revenue Service-Criminal Investigation (IRS-CI) Special Agent in Charge Richard D. Goss, Houston Field Office; Travis County Sheriff Sally Hernandez; Austin Police Chief Brian Manley; and Lakeway Police Chief Todd Radford.
Those arrested include: 23-year-old Varun Prasad of Austin; 26-year-old Charles Zenker of Houston; 68-year-old Benny Daneshjou of Austin; 26-year-old Ashley Larue of Austin; 21-year-old Drew Zarate of Austin; 32-year-old Christopher Edwards of Portland, Ore.; 21-year-old Jacob Schelling of Cypress; 22-year-old Madison Scott of Houston; 21-year-old Adrian Andreescu of Plano; 21-year-old Nikit Shingari of Austin; 21-year-old Nolan Fogleman of Austin; 23-year-old Samuel Parry of Austin; and 27-year-old Brandon Carpenter of Austin. All of the defendants are charged with conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute a controlled substance. Prasad, Daneshjou, Larue and Zarate are also charged with conspiracy to commit money laundering.
The defendants allegedly conspired to distribute LSD, fentanyl and methamphetamine in the Austin metropolitan area and other locations since April 2019 and also allegedly conspired to launder the financial proceeds of unlawful activities.
Search warrants executed yesterday in conjunction with arrest warrants resulted in the seizure of large quantities of fentanyl, Adderall pills, Alprazolam (Xanax), LSD, marijuana and psilocybin (hallucinogenic mushrooms). Investigators also seized several firearms and approximately $100,000 in U.S. currency. Prior to yesterday’s enforcement action, law enforcement officers arrested four other subjects and seized quantities of fentanyl methamphetamine, heroin, cocaine, LSD, MDMA, Benzodiazepine and other opioids during this investigation. Approximately $163,000 in assets and U.S. currency were also seized.
“Make no mistake about it. These are not pills being carefully manufactured and tested by trusted, regulated pharmaceutical companies. During the course of this investigation, two of the targets died from drug overdoses,” said U.S. Attorney Sofer. “When unsuspecting college kids and other drug seekers put these pills in their mouths, they are playing Russian roulette. They are gambling that profit-seeking drug dealers did not place lethal doses of unknown chemicals or fentanyl in these pills.”
“Drug overdose is a leading cause of preventable, injury-related deaths in our nation. This coordinated law enforcement operation dismantled an enterprise responsible for the distribution of counterfeit pharmaceuticals that contained fentanyl and methamphetamine, but were clandestinely manufactured to mimic the prescription pharmaceuticals Oxycodone and Adderall. We caution people to never consume pharmaceuticals unless under licensed medical care and sourced from a licensed pharmacy. A miniscule amount, as small as a couple grains of salt, of some of these illicit drugs can result in death,” said DEA Special Agent in Charge Whipple.
The Austin Tactical Diversion Squad, a law enforcement task force targeting criminal pharmaceutical diversion and counterfeit drug trafficking in Central Texas, conducted this investigation dubbed Operation Spider Web. Partner agencies include DEA, FBI, IRS-CI, Austin Police Department, Travis County Sheriff’s Office, Lakeway Police Department, Cedar Park Police Department and the Texas National Guard Joint Counterdrug Task Force.
“The laundering of illegal drug profits is as important and essential to drug traffickers as the very distribution of their illegal drugs,” said IRS-CI Special Agent in Charge Goss. “Without these ill-gotten gains, the traffickers cannot finance their organizations. By following the money trail, Special Agents with the IRS are able to assist our law enforcement partners with dismantling drug trafficking organizations and those that facilitate their activities.”
“We value the relationship we have with our federal partners, and through our collaborative efforts have removed a significant amount of illegal drugs off the streets of Austin. This has potentially saved many people from the dangers and risks associated with illegal drug use and furthers our mission of keeping Austin residents safe,” stated Austin Police Chief Manley.
“We are honored to serve alongside such professional agencies to combat illicit drug distribution in our various communities. This case is emblematic of the partnerships it takes in today’s times to successfully investigate and prosecute these types of complex crimes,” stated Lakeway Police Chief Radford.
Upon conviction of the drug conspiracy charge, the defendants face between 10 years and life in federal prison. Upon conviction of the money laundering conspiracy charge, the defendants face up to 20 years in federal prison.
Assistant U.S. Attorneys Mark Marshall and Robert Almonte are prosecuting this case on behalf of the government.