Defendants Face Charges in High School Drug Advertising and Distribution Cases
Defendants Allegedly Supplied Fentanyl to High School Students in Monterey County, Sometimes Resulting In Overdoses
SAN JOSE, Calif. – The Office of the United States Attorney filed federal criminal complaints charging Benjamin Reily Bliss; Louis Alexander, aka “lulu;” and Brandon William Carranza-Arthur with crimes related to the distribution of fentanyl to high school students in Monterey County. The charges were announced by Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) Special Agent in Charge Wade R. Shannon and U.S. Attorney Stephanie M. Hinds. Alexander and Carranza-Arthur appeared before U.S. Magistrate Judge Nathanael Cousins on Friday, May 6, 2022, to face their respective charges. Bliss appeared before Judge Cousins today.
According to the criminal complaints, the investigation into drug distribution to high school students in the area began as early as October 2021, but took a turn after a 15-year-old Pacific Grove resident suffered a fatal overdose on or about March 5, 2022. Evidence collected at the scene of the overdose established that the juvenile overdosed from inhaling the smoke from a pulverized, counterfeit “M30” pill. Subsequent investigation resulted in the complaints that allege Bliss, 18, of Carmel; Carranza, 19, of Monterey; and Alexander, 19, of Monterey, each played a role in distributing drugs to high school students in Monterey County.
The complaint against Bliss alleges that as part of the investigation into the deadly overdose, law enforcement interviewed a second juvenile, who also overdosed but survived. Text messages from the surviving juvenile’s cell phone established that on March 20, 2022, Bliss provided transportation for the juvenile. Specifically, Bliss picked up the surviving juvenile and provided a ride to San Francisco, where the juvenile purchased a baggie containing fentanyl in the form of a multicolored powdery/rocky substance. The juvenile allegedly paid $250 for the drugs which, after using, resulted in a non-fatal overdose on March 23, 2022.
The complaint against Alexander alleges that he used Snapchat to advertise, offer, and sell fentanyl-based counterfeit oxycodone and Xanax pills to high school students in the Monterey area. In October 2021, one of the juveniles he is believed to have supplied suffered a non-fatal overdose. While the juvenile overdose victim was recovering in the hospital, the juvenile’s mother discovered Snapchat messages on a cellular phone that the juvenile used. The Snapchat messages were about drug sales and were between the juvenile and a person named “lulu.” According to the complaint, law enforcement personnel later identified “lulu” as Alexander. In addition, the mother of yet another local high school student reported that “numerous students” are using and addicted to “percocets,” and that “lulu” is known as a supplier of these “blue pills” at the student’s high school.
Similarly, the complaint filed against Carranza alleges that law enforcement personnel obtained text messages between Carranza and a juvenile, establishing that Carranza played a role in supplying drugs to at least one high school student. According to the complaint, Carranza provided information regarding how a student should take counterfeit prescription drugs. The complaint describes numerous text messages in which a juvenile admits he was having intense cravings for drugs and Carranza negotiates the price and quantity of pills that could be supplied. In one exchange, the juvenile offers to pay Carranza $60 for $50 worth of pills if Carranza would front the money; the juvenile explained that the arrangement would provide sufficient time to arrange the sale of a cell phone to finance the transaction. According to the complaint, Carranza ultimately arranged for the juvenile to obtain the drugs.
In sum, Bliss is charged with aiding and abetting distribution of fentanyl, in violation of 21 U.S.C. §§ 841(a)(1) and (b)(1)(c) and 18 U.S.C. § 2, while Carranza and Alexander are charged with unlawfully using, or causing to be used, the Internet to advertise, or to offer to sell or distribute a controlled substance, in violation of 21 U.S.C. § 843(c)(2)(A).
Bliss faces a maximum statutory sentence of 20 years in prison. Alexander and Carranza face a maximum term of four years in prison. In addition, as part of any sentence handed down after conviction of any of the three defendants, the court may order a fine of up to $250,000, restitution, and up to three years of supervised release. However, any sentence after conviction would be imposed by the court only after consideration of the U.S. Sentencing Guidelines and the federal statute governing the imposition of a sentence, 18 U.S.C. § 3553.
Carranza and Alexander are next scheduled to appear on May 11 before Magistrate Judge Cousins. Bliss is making his initial federal court appearance today.
Assistant U.S. Attorneys Amani S. Floyd and Maya Karwande are prosecuting the cases with assistance from Linda Love and Andy Ding.
This prosecution is part of an Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Forces (OCDETF) investigation. OCDETF identifies, disrupts, and dismantles the highest-level drug traffickers, money launderers, gangs, and transnational criminal organizations that threaten the United States by using a prosecutor-led, intelligence-driven, multi-agency approach that leverages the strengths of federal, state, and local law enforcement agencies against criminal networks.
This case is the result of an investigation by the DEA with assistance from Homeland Security Investigations; the FBI; the police departments of Pacific Grove, Seaside, Monterey, Salinas, Marina, Greenfield, and Soledad; the Monterey County Probation Department; and the Monterey County Sheriff’s Office.