The U.S. Department of Justice announced the indictment of a California woman for selling counterfeit pills made with fentanyl online. The indictment charges Melissa Scanlan with nine counts: one-count conspiracy to distribute fentanyl, five-counts distribution of fentanyl, one-count sale of counterfeit drugs, one-count misbranding of drugs, and one-count international money laundering.
From at least October 1, 2016 until August 2, 2018 prosecutors allege that Scanlan allegedly shipped over 50,000 fentanyl pills across the country. Scanlan sold the pills on an online marketplace using the moniker “The Drug Llama.” Although this indictment came out of Illinois, The San Diego Union-Tribune reported that investigators in California are looking to link Scanlan to two deaths closer to home. One of the deaths is that of 10-month-old Leo Holz, according to The San Diego Union-Tribune. Baby Leo died on September 18, 2017 after investigators say he accidentally ingested one of the counterfeit oxycodone pills sold by Scanlan to his father, Colin Holz. The second victim that investigators believe died because of fake fentanyl pills originating from Scanlan is a 41-year-old woman in San Diego County.
The San Diego Union-Tribune stated that the fentanyl pills in this case were smuggled into the U.S. from Mexico before being sold online and shipped in the mail. Agents purchased nine items from “The Drug Llama” over the course of three months, and she even boasted to an undercover agent in July that she could sell 100 to 500 pills at a time. Her specialty was fake pills made with fentanyl to look like 30-milligram oxycodone pills. During a search of her San Diego home in August concerning state charges, Scanlan admitted that a Mexican cartel supplied her with the pills. While examining “a related PayPal account” belonging to Scanlan, agents discovered thousands of transactions linked to drug sales.
According to Assistant U.S. Attorney Sherri Hobson, fake oxycodone pills were not the only thing that Scanlan sold on the online marketplace. The Drug Llama also sold “‘genuine’ oxycodone, amphetamine, morphine, Percocet, temazepam, Flexeril, and an ‘opiate powder pack.’” The indictment cited an Illinois incident in which Scanlan allegedly sold misbranded Cytotec to a resident there. Cytotec is the brand-name version of misoprostol, a drug used to treat ulcers and postpartum hemorrhage, among other uses. Counterfeit misoprostol may not stop the bleeding it is prescribed for, leading to serious ailment and death.
After being released following her August arrest, Scanlan allegedly returned to Mexico to negotiate for the delivery of more fentanyl pills to her house. She was arrested for a second time on September 4th for the Illinois charges. In court in San Diego, Hobson argued that Scanlan should be kept in custody because she continued to engage in criminal conduct after her initial arrest and is considered both a danger and a flight risk.
This case is the result of a months-long, coordinated national operation involving the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s Office of Criminal Investigations, the Drug Enforcement Administration, the U.S. Postal Inspection Service, the Department of Homeland Security Investigations, U.S. Customs and Border Protection, the U.S. States Attorney’s Office for the Southern District for California, and the U.S. States Attorney’s for the Southern District of Illinois. Assistant United States Attorney Derek J. Wiseman is prosecuting this case.