Are online digital wallets facilitating drug dealers?SteveL
Can we hold Snap, Inc. and Venmo Responsible for Fentanyl Deaths?
The short answer is ‘maybe’. In August of 2017 I was asked to get involved with the death of a college student in Colorado. She’d been out with friends, purchased Xanax from an online source, but unbeknownst to the group of friends, the drug had been cut with fentanyl. That night, she either took it or drank something with it in the drink and never woke up. It’s not just in Colorado. It is also in Iowa.
What happened to Ciara Gilliam?
This past week KCCI ran a story online about Ciara Gilliam.
“Ciara Gilliam died in August 2022 after taking a pill she thought was Xanax, but turned out to be laced with fentanyl. Now, her family and seven others across the country are suing Snap, the parent company of Snapchat, alleging the app facilitated the sale of deadly pills.”
According to the Center for Disease Control fentanyl is an opioid that is 50 times stronger than heroin and 100 times stronger than morphine. There are legitimate uses for fentanyl, but recreational highs are not one of them. And that is because street fentanyl has been synthesized in labs operated by organized criminal groups in places like China. How these doctored drugs get to someone living in Boulder, Colorado remains a mystery. In the case I worked on, the seller had accepted payment using Venmo, which made identifying him fairly simple. But getting him to identify his sellers, proved to be difficult. I’m fairly certain his concerns had much to do with staying alive; and I’m not talking about the Bee Gee’s song. Who are the facilitators of this criminal act?
What’s a facilitator to a criminal enterprise?
From a civil standpoint I thought back over the past 40 years and concluded there was no viable cause of action. But Gilliam’s parents have hooked up with a Seattle, Washington firm, one that is presenting a novel approach.
We all know that without Internet payment and communication platforms like Venmo and SnapChat, that the online sale of narcotics would be impossible. I am beginning to think that how we look at this problem is probably the way lawyers can come up with a way to stop it. I have not yet read the legal Complaint filed in Los Angles by the Estate of Ciara Gilliam against Snap, Inc. And so, my ability to comment on the exact theories is not yet possible. The KCCI reporter declined to share the Complaint with me and a phone call along with an email to the law firm has gone unanswered. But, allow me to play legal sleuth and perhaps brainstorm the ideas that support a claim against SnapChat’s parent Snap, Inc.
How does the law look at facilitators?
Let’s take a look at Bernie Madoff’s Ponzi Scheme and Jeffrey Epstein’s sexual exploitation of minors. Both had one thing in common: they both required facilitators. The facilitators make the ongoing criminal enterprise viable. Without the facilitator the person or entities providing the product or service and making a profit will not succeed. The facilitators are an integral part of the criminal enterprise.
It’s like the legal justification for the felony-murder rule. What is the felony-murder rule?
The felony murder rule is a law in most states and under federal law that allows anyone who is accused of committing a violent felony to be charged with murder if the commission of that felony results in the death of someone. Like a bank robbery involving guns, a get-away drive, a lookout and the people going inside the bank and grabbing the money. Let’s say one of the inside people get jumpy, shoot and kill a bank teller. Who gets charged with murder? Just the person who pulled the trigger?
What about the getaway driver or the lookout man?
All involved in the crime, including those who planned it are charged with murder under the felony-murder rule. This means the guy driving the getaway car and the lookouts are all guilty of murder. So, if the guy inside the bank robbing it, shoots a pregnant teller everyone involved in the robbery will be charged with murder. Here is how to look at this bank robbery. The robbery is a criminal enterprise and no one gets to claim they never intended to participate in a murder, just a robbery. The law says, oh how sad, too bad, you’re involved, then you are responsible for what the people holding the guns did inside to further the enterprise.
Well, that makes complete sense. If you are making money robbing people then you are responsible for the evil that the seeds the enterprise sowed reaped. And so, I ask, why don’t the same set of principles apply to all the facilitators involved in the online sale of illicit drugs where fentanyl is used to enhance the Xanax? The use of fentanyl to cut or spike Xanax is so outrageously dangerous that the manufacturers and sellers, the dealers and the systems used to facilitate the sale all know a certain number of people who take this Xanax will die. This is not a drug being sold, this is poison.
Can the McDonald’s Verdict Teach Us Anything?
It’s sort of the situation of the McDonald’s coffee burn case. That coffee was so hot that no human being could drink it without getting seriously burned. That fact made the coffee no different than poison, because frankly at that temperature it was not considered edible food. So, why not think of Xanax laced with fentanyl any different? Why not think of Xanax laced with fentanyl as poison? It’s certainly not a drug. With fentanyl it is poison. It can’t be ingested without an extremely high risk of a person going into respiratory distress and dying.
Online Xanax, Laced with Fentanyl Is Deadly
“Overdose may result in stupor, changes in pupillary size, cold and clammy skin, cyanosis, coma, and respiratory failure leading to death. The presence of triad of symptoms such as coma, pinpoint pupils, and respiratory depression are strongly suggestive of opioid poisoning.” Drug Fact Sheet – Fentanyl – DEA
Even under the best conditions and with pharmaceutical grade prescribed drugs, bad things and happen.
So, why do people insist on engaging in this game of Russian Roulette by buying online narcotics?
Russian Roulette is the practice of loading a bullet into one chamber of a revolver, spinning the cylinder, and then pulling the trigger while pointing the gun at one’s own head.
In fourth grade the young lady from Boulder, Colorado wrote a poem. She included a peace sign, a palm tree, waves, fish and dove that she cut from construction paper. I will borrow one stanza from her poem because it probably says a lot about the problems we face with Internet companies suffering from denial while making billions of dollars. These are the same companies making money off of facilitating illegal drug transactions, while claiming they can’t be held responsible without hurting development of the Internet.
I pretend that nothing ever will be bad in the world.
I feel the ocean pushing me and leading me to the best snorkeling spots.
I touch the sand on the beach.
I worry that global warming won’t stop even if we try.
I cry when people die that I love.
I am a tree hugger who loves the ocean.