Thirteen people, including current and former UT-Austin students, were arrested by federal, state and local officials Thursday and charged with trafficking fentanyl, LSD and methamphetamine, among other drugs, in West Campus.
The arrests were part of a yearlong federal investigation called Operation Spiderweb, and investigators said in a Friday press conference the defendants had been distributing drugs since April 2019.
Some of the defendants were also charged with money laundering. At the press conference, investigators said sales were over $1 million, and U.S. Attorney Gregg Sofer said two of the suspects died of an overdose during the investigation.
Sofer said investigators also seized $100,000 in cash, firearms and bulletproof vests.
“What is particularly disturbing about this case is the fact that what appeared to be extremely educated and talented people who had many opportunities in life to choose from instead focused their business acumen … and education in dealing illegal, dangerous and counterfeit drugs,” Sofer said. “Today’s indictment demonstrates that they went into the wrong business.”
DEA Special Agent Steven Whipple said sales happened on and off campus, and some of the drugs were being manufactured and sold as Adderall and Xanax but laced with other substances.
Whipple said of the 13 defendants, eight are former or current UT-Austin students, including business, chemistry, mathematics and psychology majors.
Sofer said each defendant faces 10 years to life in prison.
Those arrested includes:
- - 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, Oregon.
- - Jacob Schelling, 21, of Cypress.
- - Madison Scott, 22, of Houston.
- - Adrian Andreescu, 21, of Plano.
- - Nikit Shingari, 21, of Austin.
- - Nolan Fogleman, 21, of Austin.
- - Samuel Parry, 23, of Austin.
- - Brandon Carpenter, 27 of Austin.
All 13 defendants were charged with conspiracy of possession with intent to distribute the drugs. Of the 13, Prasad, Daneshjou, Larue and Zarate were charged with conspiracy to commit money laundering.
“They decided to turn their talents into this illicit operation,” Whipple said. “They were pretty sophisticated about how they did it. They used social media. GroupMe was a pretty common platform that they used to arrange the sales of the narcotics.”
Mark Marshall, assistant U.S. attorney, said no warrants were run on campus and most of the activity took place in West Campus.
Rose Rodriguez-Rabin, a former UT-San Antonio professor, was also charged in the case for selling methamphetamine-laced Adderall to Prasad, Sofer said.
Update, 5:09 p.m.: UT spokesperson J.B. Bird said of the 13 people arrested, Nikit Shingari is the only current UT student, and six others are former students. He said the Office of the Dean of Students will follow up on the arrest since it involves a current student.
“The University is grateful for the actions of law enforcement to ensure our students can safely pursue their educational career on campus and in the off-campus areas where many live,” Bird said.