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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East Austin restaurant la Barbecue has been robbed a third time in less than three months, according to a post on the restaurant's Instagram.
In the post, the restaurant included photos of what appeared to be a man exiting a minivan from surveillance footage.
"This guy pulled up in a car full of stuff… he ripped our gate open and stole a couple empty kegs," the post said. "The ring system scared him off so he did not venture back into the area. PLEASE EVERYONE ON THE EAST SIDE BE CAREFUL!!! This guy goes back into his car to grab something before he goes in. I am hoping he won’t be back!!"
The robbery comes as many restaurant and food truck owners have been on guard from recent break-ins. East Austin cheesesteak truck R&B's Steak and Fries has also been robbed three times in around three months, according to owner Kris Elliott. Elliot said the truck was last robbed around a month and a half ago.
"When the weather gets cold, it seems like these things start to happen more often," Elliott said. "We're just happy no one got hurt."
Additionally, he said all 5 of the food trucks in their lot have experienced burglaries. The landlord of the space is taking action by investing in alarm and camera systems. "Been very tough dealing with this problem as us small business owners are just trying to survive during the pandemic," Elliott said.
And it's not just in East Austin. North Austin restaurants Eldorado Cafe and Chez Zee Bistro were both broken into and robbed on the weekend of Jan. 8, while over a dozen food truck robberies and break-ins were reported in the latter half of 2021.
Some, like Chez Zee's Deborah Velasco, wonder if the understaffed Austin Police Department's decision to no longer respond to non-emergency calls is part of the problem. Xose Velasco, owner of East Austin's Discada, said owners are keeping their guard up in the wake of the robberies as he was robbed twice within a month of reopening in November 2021.
"We try to keep the lights on," Velasco said. "We're a little bit more careful."
After 12 months, the long-anticipated massive Tesla factory in Southeast Travis County is up and operating and everyone wants a look inside.
Phase 1 of Giga Texas appears to be tied up as production of the Model Y Tesla is underway, the electric car company revealed on Wednesday in its fourth-quarter earnings call. The factory, located on the former Harold Green-turned Tesla Road, sits on more than 2,000 acres of land in southeast Travis County.
Here's a glimpse inside the factory.
Model Ys will be the first Teslas to come out of Giga Texas with an estimated delivery of August. The wait estimate comes after Tesla noted supply chain issues have affected their factories, which have been running below capacity for several quarters. A deep blue metallic like this goes for $1,000 more than a white or silver Model Y, totaling $61,990.
Model Ys began being produced at Giga Texas at the end of 2020. In general assembly at the factory, the Teslas get their major interior components to finish the vehicle.
Workers at Austin's Gigafactory are attaching seats to a structural battery pack. It's been described by some as the biggest difference between Texas-made Model Y's and the current version at the Fremont, California factory. It shouldn't have a major impact on the owner's experience, but Tesla has updated instructions for the jacking procedure, as the lift points are different.
With a sleek, open office setup, workers can take in a view of the factory from their seats. It's a component CEO Elon Musk wanted for what is now the headquarters of Tesla.
On the Austin, Texas public location Snapchat, a photo of inside Giga Texas has appeared. On the left you can see a sneak peek of a Model Y body.pic.twitter.com/N7zliZ5vkL— Sawyer Merritt (@Sawyer Merritt) 1643081462
With Snapchat's maps, anyone can look at everyday activity happening at the factory. To view these geographically-linked stories, click the bottom left "map" icon and search "Tesla Giga Texas." Once you've found it, you can view the Snapchat story of those in and around the facility. While most stories stay up for only 24 hours, Giga Texas is a designated place on Snapchat, allowing users to view a collection of photos and videos from the inside.
Following Model Ys, Texas-made Teslas will include the Cybertruck, Semi and Model 3. But it might be a while before those other models arrive. EV makers have been hit hard by the chip shortage, and it's thought that changing features are contributing to Cybertruck delays as Tesla works to compete in the electric pickup market.
Joe Rogan paid a visit to buddy Elon Musk this week. The two have been seen around town since both moving to Texas. Naturally, Rogan was impressed with the prototype.
If you're dying to get a closer look at this factory, you just might get to. In December, Musk said the factory would have tours available to the community early this year.
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