New York-based Mike’s Candyshop leader pleads guilty.
Ariel Tavarez (aka “Mike” of Mike’s Candyshop) pleaded guilty this month in Manhattan federal court to distributing additive drugs including heroin, cocaine, fentanyl, and a fentanyl analogue. He also pleaded guilty to distributing narcotics that caused the 2018 death of Colin Kroll, the co-founder of the video hosting service Vine and the trivia game application HQ Trivia.
According to prosecutors, Tavarez was the organizer of a drug trafficking operation that delivered narcotics, which identified itself as Mike’s Candyshop. The trafficking ring delivered heroin and cocaine, that was sometimes laced with fentanyl, to customers in New York City. “Mike’s Candyshop generally operated seven days per week, from approximately 6:00 p.m. to 12:00 a.m., with the exception of major holidays such as Thanksgiving, New Year’s Eve, and Labor Day,” according to court documents.
Customers placed orders via text message to a centralized phone number. These were accepted by Tavarez, who arranged for someone to deliver the narcotics usually within hours of the request.
“Customers ordered drugs with the same convenience as if they were ordering a pizza,” Peter C. Fitzhugh, the special agent in charge of the New York Field Office of Homeland Security Investigations, said.
U.S. Attorney Geoffrey S. Berman added, “As alleged, these defendants operated a covert on-demand delivery service for the distribution of highly addictive and dangerous drugs. Allegedly, even after they realized the potency of the drugs they were distributing and selling, the defendants continued to sell their poison.”
Christian Baez, Luis Meson (aka Sito) Gregoris Martinez (aka Greg) Kevin Grullon (aka Kev, JB) and Jeffrey Urena (aka Jeff, Jay) served as couriers. Heroin, cocaine, a fentanyl analogue, and cash from drug sales were stored in various locations in Brooklyn, New York. In an effort to avoid detection, they sold only to customers who had been referred by existing customers, the phone number was occasionally changed, and a coded language was used.
On December 16, 2018, Kroll died of a drug overdose in New York, New York, after ingesting cocaine, heroin, fentanyl, and a fentanyl analogue purchased from Mike’s Candyshop, which he purchased on December 14. Responding officers found unusual text messages on his phone requesting a “book” and a “shirt,” and eventually traced the number to Tavarez. In pleading guilty, Tavarez faces a statutory mandatory minimum term of twenty years behind with a maximum sentence of life in prison. He is scheduled to be sentenced in November.
Baez, Meson, Martinez, Grullon, and Urena each previously entered a guilty plea. Martinez was sentenced on June 29, 2021, to 72 months in prison. Baez, Meson, Grullon, and Urena will be sentenced later this year.
DEA Special Agent in Charge Ray Donovan warned, “Traffickers take note, it is our job to investigate and arrest drug suppliers whose business leads to drug addiction, overdoses, and death. This case gives new meaning to the term ‘candy’ and gave investigators a look into alleged drug delivery services in New York. Our partnership with the U.S. Attorney’s Office, HSI, and NYPD will continue to identify alleged drug suppliers at all levels.”