AUSTIN, Texas – Thirteen people have been arrested and federally indicted for allegedly distributing and selling illegal drugs to University of Texas students in Austin and San Antonio, according to federal prosecutors.
In a press conference Friday, U.S. attorney for the Western District of Texas Gregg Sofer said that current and former University of Texas students are among those arrested for attempting to distribute drugs like LSD, psilocybin, fentanyl and methamphetamine.
All 13 people are being charged with conspiracy to distribute a controlled substance and some of the individuals are also being charged with money laundering.
“These charges are the culmination of Operation Spiderweb, which began in 2019 when federal, state, and local law enforcement officers noticed a disturbing increase in the distribution of counterfeit controlled substances,” said Sofer.
Authorities in Austin, according to Sofer, learned that thousands of counterfeit pills were being distributed around the West campus in Austin, which corresponded with an increase in overdoses reported to local law enforcement.
“Two targets of this investigation overdosed and died during the course of the investigation,” Sofer said. “These are not pills being carefully manufactured and tested by sophisticated pharmaceutical companies.”
Search warrants were executed Thursday as part of Operation Spiderweb and resulted in the seizure of hallucinogenic mushrooms, counterfeit Adderall, counterfeit Xanax, LSD and other drugs. More than $100,000 in cash was also seized, along with firearms and ballistic vests.
“Investigators estimate that the overall sales of the illegal drugs sold by this organization exceed $1 million,” Sofer said.
The arrests in Austin are related to the December 2019 arrest of former University of Texas at San Antonio lecturer Rose Rodriguez-Rabin. She, along with her codefendant, Brandon Sims, distributed counterfeit Adderall pills to UTSA students and others, Sofer said.
Rodriguez-Rabin was employed with the university at the time of her arrest. UTSA spokesperson Courtney Clevenger told KSAT Friday that “Rose Rodriguez-Rabin is no longer employed at UTSA. She exited the university in March.”
“Ms. Rodriguez-Rabin was placed on leave as a lecturer in December 2019 following her arrest. Subsequent to the university’s formal termination process, her employment was terminated on March 31, 2020,” Clevenger said.
Tens of thousands of fake Adderall pills and manufacturing equipment were allegedly found in a Northwest Side apartment last December that belonged to Rodriguez-Rabin, who told federal agents at the time that Sims was her roommate.
According to Sofer, Rodriguez-Rabin supplied 23-year-old Varun Prasad “with counterfeit Adderall laced with meth on numerous occasions.”
Federal authorities believe Prasad was the leader of the distribution network and was laundering drug money with the help of an Austin-based real estate investor Benny Daneshjou, 68, who Austin police say helped the group buy real estate to use for safe houses and to store drugs, according to the Austin-American Statesman.
Houston Special Agent Steven Whipple said eight “current or former UT students that were members of this organization” including “mathematics majors, chemistry majors, a psychology major, [and] business major.” He noted that the defendants are all well educated and said the operation was “sophisticated” in its execution.
“The point that we really would like people to take away from this investigation,” Whipple said, “is when you send your kids to college and they think they’re buying a prescription pill, Adderall, to get them through a finals exam, chances are high that it’s not Adderall.”
Whipple said the street drugs are extremely dangerous because they’re laced with things that are highly addictive and deadly like fentanyl.
“This organization did sell some diverted pharmaceutical narcotics, but they couldn’t get enough,” Whipple said. “So they went the manufacturing route and turned to people “like Professor [Rodriguez]-Rabin and what she was providing.”
During the search at Rodriguez-Rabin’s apartment, agents seized 11 kilograms of fake Adderall and a large pill press operation. She was charged with manufacturing and distributing approximately 680 grams of Adderall at the time of her arrest and Sims was charged with possession with intent to distribute methamphetamine.