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(Pexels)

At least 13 former and current University of Texas students were arrested and charged in connection with trafficking counterfeit prescription drugs laced with fentanyl and methamphetamines to UT students in Austin.


"During the course of this investigation, two of the targets died from drug overdoses," U.S. Attorney Gregg N. Sofer said in a statement Friday. "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."

Federal, state and local authorities announced the arrests on Friday following a search effort the day before that led to the seizure of large quantities of fentanyl, Adderall, Xanax, LSD, marijuana and psilocybin, or hallucinogenic mushrooms, as well as several firearms and approximately $100,000, according to the U.S. Department of Justice.

The defendants allegedly conspired to distribute the drugs in the Austin metro area since April 2019 and to launder the profits, per a press release.

The Austin Tactical Diversion Squad, a law enforcement task force targeting counterfeit drug trafficking, conducted "Operation Spider Web," as the investigation was called, along with partner agencies, including the Drug Enforcement Administration, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the Travis County Sheriff's Office and the Austin Police Department.

"This has potentially saved many people from the dangers and risks associated with illegal drug use and furthers our mission of keeping Austin residents safe," APD Chief Brian Manley said in a statement.

Local officials noticed a significant increase in overdoses among UT students over the course of the investigation, which began following a tip submitted early last year, according to a report by the Austin American-Statesman.

If convicted of the drug conspiracy charges, the defendants face between 10 years and life in federal prison. The money laundering conspiracy charges carry sentences of up to 20 years.

Those arrested include:

  • Varun Prasad, 23, of Austin
  • Charles Zenker, 26, of Houston
  • Benny Daneshjou, 68, of Austin
  • Ashley Larue, 26, of Austin
  • Drew Zarate, 21, of Austin
  • Christopher Edwards, 32, of Portland
  • Jacob Schelling, 21, of Cypress
  • Madison Scott, 22, of Houston
  • Adrian Andreescu, 21, of Plano
  • Niki Shingari, 21, of Austin
  • Nolan Fogleman, 21, of Austin
  • Samuel Parry, 23, of Austin
  • Brandon Carpenter, 27, of Austin

Prasad, Daneshjou, Laru and Zarate were also charged with conspiracy to commit money laundering.

Shingari is a current student at UT, and six others are former students, as the Daily Texan reported.

Daneshjou previously made headlines in 2004, when Oscar-winning actress Sandra Bullock sued the builder, whom she said did shoddy work on her Lake Austin home.

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