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Public Safety

'Drug Llama' Indicted For Conspiring To Distribute Fentanyl Via Dark Web

Associated Press
A reporter holds up an example of the amount of fentanyl that can be deadly after a news conference about deaths from fentanyl exposure, at DEA Headquarters in Arlington Va., Tuesday, June 6, 2017.

A San Diego woman has been indicted in the Southern District of Illinois for allegedly conspiring to distribute fentanyl throughout the United States via the "dark web," federal authorities announced Tuesday.

The indictment alleges that 31-year-old Melissa Scanlan is known on the dark web as "The Drug Llama," and that she conspired to distribute misbranded fentanyl pills throughout the United States. Fentanyl is a highly addictive and oftentimes lethal opioid painkiller.

"The dark web is a virtual marketplace for drug dealers and other criminals who are seeking the anonymity that only the digital world can provide," said Adam Braverman, U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of California. "But there's nowhere we won't go to find them, particularly when fentanyl is involved and lives are at stake. The key to success is relentless pursuit and collaboration with our law enforcement partners around the country."

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According to the indictment, the fentanyl distribution conspiracy lasted from Oct. 1, 2016, until Aug. 2 of this year.

At her detention hearing Monday in San Diego federal court, prosecutors alleged that Scanlan was responsible for shipping more than 50,000 fentanyl pills across the country, including into the Southern District of Illinois, and that she was Scanlan was part of an international money laundering conspiracy.

Scanlan was ordered detained, based on risk of flight and danger to the community, pending her removal to Illinois.

The dark web is unreachable by traditional search engines and web browsers. Websites on the dark web have complex addresses generated by a computer algorithm and must be accessed using special software that is capable of connecting to "The Onion Router" network, or TOR for short.

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The TOR network is encrypted and routes internet traffic dynamically through a series of computers around the world, concealing the true Internet Protocol (IP) addresses of the computers accessing the network and thereby making internet use virtually anonymous. That perceived anonymity has led to a proliferation of criminal activity on dark web marketplaces, like "Dream Market," where users can find vendors offering illegal goods and services for sale.

The indictment alleges Scanlan conspired with others to operate an illegal drug distribution business on one of those dark web marketplaces using the moniker "The Drug Llama," and that she and her co-conspirators distributed fentanyl throughout the United States.

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