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Federal prosecutors announced Friday that 13 people, including current and former University of Texas students, were charged in connection to a massive LSD, fentanyl, and methamphetamine trafficking and money laundering scheme meant to peddle drugs to college kids in the Austin metropolitan area that was supplied, in part, by a marijuana farm in Portland.
The defendants allegedly conspired to distribute LSD, fentanyl, and methamphetamine in the Austin metropolitan area and other locations since April 2019 and also conspired to launder the proceeds, the Justice Department announced Friday. Authorities believe more than $1 million worth of drugs were sold and distributed.
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Search warrants executed Thursday 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 about $100,000 in U.S. currency, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Western District of Texas.
“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,” U.S. Attorney Gregg N. Sofer said in a statement. “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.”
A psilocybin grow used to supply sales was found in Dripping Springs, outside Austin, and a marijuana field linked to the ring was found in Portland, investigators said. Federal officials have not disclosed the exact location of the farm or identified the owner of the land.
The ring was allegedly led by Varun Prasad, 23, of Austin, investigators said. Prasad accepted payments for the drugs via apps including Venmo and Paypal, plus in cash.
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Austin real estate developer Benny Daneshjou, 68, also was arrested after officials say he worked with Prasad to launder money, purchasing properties that were used as stash houses, safe houses, grow fields, and a hallucinogenic mushroom growth operation.
Former University of Texas at San Antonio professor Rose Rodriguez-Rabin is accused of providing Prasad with methamphetamine-laced counterfeit drugs “on numerous occasions,” Sofer said.
Rodriguez-Rabin and a co-defendant, Brandon Sims, are awaiting trial after being arrested in December 2019 for distributing counterfeit Adderall pills to UTSA students and others using “a consumer app similar to DoorDash” to market and sell the drugs as part of the same operation Prasad ran, Sofer said.
Two other suspects overdosed and died during the investigation, which began in 2019, Sofer said.
Those arrested last week also include 26-year-old Charles Zenker of Houston; 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.
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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. If convicted, the defendants could face 10 years to life in prison for drug trafficking and up to 20 years in prison for money laundering.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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