Vine Co-Founder, Mike’s Candy Shop Ringleader to Spend More than Two Decades in Federal Prison

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Courtroom gavel. FILE PHOTO: REUTERS/Andrew Kelly/Illustration

NEW YORK, NY – Ariel Tavarez, also known as Mike, is going to prison for 264 months for the death of Vine co-founder Colin Kroll. Tavarez, also a founding member of the now defunct Vine short-video service was convicted of providing the fatal dose of fentanyl laced heroin that killed Kroll.

Tavarez also operated Mike’s Candy Shop, an illegal direct-delivery drug service.

Damian Williams, the United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York, announced that ARIEL TAVAREZ, a/k/a “A,” a/k/a “Mike,” was sentenced to 264 months in prison in connection with his 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.  United States District Judge Katherine Polk Failla imposed yesterday’s sentence.

U.S. Attorney Damian Williams said, “Ariel Tavarez was the leader of Mike’s Candyshop, an illegal on-demand drug delivery service that served deadly narcotics directly to customers in New York City. At Tavarez’s direction, a Mike’s Candyshop courier delivered a fatal dose of heroin laced with a fentanyl analogue to Colin Kroll, co-founder of Vine and HQ Trivia. Along with our law enforcement partners, we will continue to treat overdose deaths as crime scenes, and bring those responsible to justice, as in this case. Tavarez’s lengthy sentence of 22 years in federal prison underscores the grave nature of his conduct, and the devastating harm that dealing deadly, unregulated fentanyl can inflict.”

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.

TAVAREZ, the leader of the DTO, used threats of violence, including with firearms, against other members of the DTO to maintain order and eliminate competition from within the organization.  

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.