'Drug Llama' trots toward plea deal in dark web case

ByChuck Goudie and Barb Markoff WLS logo
Thursday, August 22, 2019
'Drug Llama' trots toward plea deal in dark web case
The I-Team has been investigating Melissa Scanlan since her arrest last fall on federal charges that she sold thousands of fentanyl pills via her website.

CHICAGO (WLS) -- A woman known to her illicit internet customers as "The Drug Llama" is in plea talks with federal prosecutors in Illinois, the ABC7 I-Team has learned.

Melissa Scanlan, 32, was charged last year with the sale of more than 50,000 pills nationwide-allegedly from an e-business that she had set up on the so-called "dark web," the internet's underbelly that is popular with criminal racketeers.

Scanlan was living in San Diego but she had fentanyl customers around the world according to investigators, including the Midwest and southern Illinois where the case is being prosecuted.

Settlement negotiations "are close to completion," according to Scanlan's attorney Mark A. Hammer in a newly filed motion to delay her trial date that had been scheduled for this week. "The parties will require additional time to complete those negotiations."

Hammer told the I-Team on Thursday that he "cannot comment on the details or progress of settlement negotiations" or that a possible plea agreement is in the works.

Also on Thursday, assistant U.S. Attorney Derek Wiseman said that he "can't comment on ongoing negotiations."

Scanlan's accused co-Drug Llama, Brandon Arias, 34, already pleaded guilty last month to conspiracy and other charges. Arias, also from San Diego, faces ten years to life in prison at sentencing on October 29.

In newly filed court records, Arias lays out his-and Scanlan's-role as The Drug Llama; describing how they bought thousands of wholesale fentanyl pills from a Mexican cartel boss and took delivery from drug couriers at their San Diego apartment where they filled the orders. According to the court document, Arias said the couple made a six figure profit in six months. Arias is facing ten years to life in prison at sentencing in October.

The I-Team first reported last fall that investigators in Southern California said Scanlan was also being investigated for selling the fentanyl that caused two, separate overdose deaths there: a 10-month-old boy and a 41-year-old woman in San Diego County. The 10-month-old died when his father left fentanyl, allegedly sold by Scanlan, too close to the baby, according to authorities.

Fentanyl is extremely potent and dangerous, said to be 50 times stronger than heroin and fatal in small doses.

Federal agents from downstate Illinois, St. Louis and San Diego, said they made undercover buys from "The Drug Llama" website, and that the pills were shipped from an address traced to Scanlan.

When authorities searched her San Diego home a year ago, federal agents said she admitted to obtaining the pills from a Mexican cartel and that she once boasted being able to sell up to 500 opiate pills at a time.

The drugs were allegedly shipped in leather pouches, similar to those that were sold by Scanlan in a previous online business including money clips, leather business card holders and laptop cases.

An article written under Scanlan's name and photo in May of 2016 described numerous illicit methods of obtaining prescriptions drugs, including the use of the dark web. At that time, Scanlan said she knew the legal dangers of such purchases and advised against it.

"Buying drugs you do not have an RX for is illegal if your package gets caught by USPS or any other logistics services, I would think they would report it to law enforcement and or put you on some watch list like with the DEA," the article stated. "Mail Crimes are pretty serious should the governement (sic) want to prosecute, and most troubling is you don't know what your buying is legitimate or counterfit (sic) a good example of counterfit (sic) drugs going bad is the Norco in San Jose recently killing people because it was actually Fentanyl made to look like 10mg Norco."

Illinois prosecutors have alleged that Scanlan was part of an international money-laundering conspiracy.

When she was arrested last year, "The Drug Llama" was five months pregnant, investigators said.

Typically, the federal cases would finish before local prosecutors in San Diego would look at filing charges in connection with those deaths. When the Illinois case will wrap up isn't certain but the plea talks appear to be moving along.