Consumer Attorney Public Relations
Social Media Victims Law Center and CA Goldberg, PLLC file suit against Snap, Inc. for facilitating the sale of deadly fentanyl-laced pills that resulted in eight deaths
The lawsuit alleges Snapchat allows drug dealers to publish drug menus and other evidence that disappears within 24 hours
LOS ANGELES – OCTOBER 14, 2022 – The Social Media Victims Law Center (SMVLC), a legal resource for parents of children and teenage victims harmed by social media addiction and online abuse, together with C.A. Goldberg, PLLC, a New York law firm representing victims of catastrophic injuries caused by tech giants, have filed a lawsuit against Snap, Inc. on behalf of the families of nine teenagers and young adults, eight of whom died after taking drugs purchased from drug dealers who they connected with through Snapchat. In all eight cases, the children and young adults believed they were purchasing non-lethal medications, like Percocet or Xanax; but the pills were actually fentanyl pressed to look like prescription medications and in doses lethal enough to kill multiple people with a single dose.
The suit alleges that Snapchat’s disappearing messages, My Eyes Only, and Snap Map features, among other products unique to the social media platform, encourage, enable and facilitate illegal and deadly drug sales of counterfeit pills containing lethal doses of fentanyl to minors and young adults. Snapchat provides drug dealers with a never-ending source of young customers, obstructs parental supervision, enables dealers to locate and access nearby minors and young adults, and promises the posting and exchange of drug menus and other information that disappears – erasing evidence of the sale and crime.
“The use of counterfeit drugs laced with fentanyl is a national crisis which is affecting minors as much, if not more, than adults,” said Matthew P. Bergman, founding attorney of SMVLC. “As much as Snap wants us to believe that this is a social media issue, it is, in fact, a Snapchat issue caused by Snap’s inherently flawed marketing strategies and product designs which encourage, facilitate, and assist online drug dealers with finding minors and young adults.”
“Snapchat has become the new ‘street corner in the shady part of town’ where kids and teenagers know they can go to buy drugs and drug dealers can escape punishment. While it is obviously wrong to buy illegal drugs of any kind, these kids didn’t deserve to die for one bad decision,” Bergman said.
Carrie Goldberg, founder of C.A. Goldberg, PLLC and co-counsel on the case, added, “This is a case about the Snap Drug Cartel. The design of Snapchat, with its disappearing messages and evasion of both parental oversight and law enforcement scrutiny, is irresistible to drug dealers. We are all hearing about kids being poisoned by fentanyl-laced pills they buy online. These transactions aren’t happening on the dark web. The vast majority of the cases we’ve seen involve kids buying the lethal pills on Snap.”
SMVLC and CA Goldberg PLLC filed the lawsuits on behalf of the families of Alexander Neville, 14, from San Diego, CA; Daniel Puerta, 16, from Santa Clarita, CA; Jeff Hernandez, 17, from Elk Grove, CA; Dylan Kai Sarantos, 18, from Los Angeles, CA; Devin Norring, 19, from Hastings, MN; Jack McCarthy, 19, from Birmingham, MI; Alexandra Capelouto, 20 from Temecula, CA; and Daniel (Elijah) Figueroa, 20, from Seal Beach, CA. who all died after unknowingly taking fentanyl-laced pills sold by Snapchat drug dealers. It also includes 16-year-old A.B., who survived, continues to use the defective and inherently dangerous Snapchat product without her parents’ consent, and is not named in court documents because she’s a minor.
The lawsuit was filed in the Los Angeles Superior Court on October 13, 2022.
Alexander Neville, 14, from San Diego, CA
Alexander was an outgoing boy who loved skateboarding, video games, and playing with his little sister. He had a keen interest in World War II and the Civil War and wanted to become a historian.
On June 22, 2021, Alexander went to get a haircut, have lunch and hang out with his friends. He returned home just before 9 p.m. and went up to his bedroom to go to sleep. When his mother, Amy, went to wake him up the next morning for an orthodontist appointment, she found her son lying lifeless on his bedroom floor.
San Diego Narcotics Task Force Team 10 notified Alexander’s parents that the pills their son had taken were 100 percent fentanyl. Snap was unresponsive to multiple subpoenas despite notice of the death of Alexander and the fact that one of its users was selling lethal doses of fentanyl to children. It took three subpoenas for Snap to respond.
Only then was it discovered that Alexander connected with a Snapchat dealer called “Smokxy” who sold Alexander fentanyl pills instead of the oxycodone that Alexander believed he was purchasing.
Daniel Puerta, 16, from Santa Clarita, CA
Daniel was a sensitive and intelligent boy who loved sports and hanging out with friends. People described him as an old soul.
On the evening of March 29, 2020, Daniel went into his father’s home office to let him know that he was leaving to take their dog, Birdy, for a walk. At around 11:30 p.m., Daniel hugged his father, Jamie, goodnight and went to bed.
The next morning, his father went to wake Daniel up and found him unconscious in bed. Jaime rushed over and shook his son, causing black bile to spill out of his mouth. Daniel was rushed to the hospital where doctors told him that Daniel had zero brain function. Six days later, his family removed him from life support.
The half a pill recovered from Daniel’s bedroom had been taken into evidence and turned out to be 100 percent fentanyl, resulting in complete loss of brain function.
The investigation of Daniel’s death found that he had met a drug dealer through Snapchat.
Jeff Hernandez, 17, from Elk Grove, California
Jeff was described by teachers as one of the greatest thinkers they’d ever taught. He was an honor roll student, a self-taught auto mechanic and a star athlete who excelled in football, baseball, basketball and boxing.
On June 28, 2021, Jeff returned home from a night of hanging out with friends, made himself a bowl of fried rice and then told him his mom goodnight before going to bed.
The next morning his grandmother Rosine, who was always his ride to work, stopped by his room to let him know that she was ready to go, but he didn’t answer. After several attempts at calling him, she opened his bedroom door only to find his lifeless body lying on his bed.
Police were able to deduce that Jeff died of fentanyl poisoning after recovering blue powder from a bowl in his room, which turned out to be 100 percent pure fentanyl.
Snap eventually responded to a subpoena which showed that Jeff was talking to Snapchat drug dealer “Sal” prior to his death. What police learned from data on his devices is that Jeff attempted to purchase “Percocet” from the Snapchat dealer, which the dealer delivered to Jeff’s work.
Dylan Kai Sarantos, 18, from Los Angeles, California
Dylan was an artistic and creative boy who loved to make music and design printed T-shirts and sweatshirts. Throughout his junior and the first part of his senior year of high school, Dylan worked part-time at fast food restaurant in hopes of buying his first car.
On May 8, 2020, Dylan’s mother, Cindy, drove her partner, Julian, to get tested for COVID-19 and run errands. When the two returned home, Cindy became curious as to why Dylan hadn’t come down from his room.
Cindy went to check on Dylan and saw him wearing headphones, so she assumed he was awake and just couldn’t hear her. She noticed her son’s toes were a deep shade of blue, and running to him, tried to wake him while calling his name. Cindy felt his ice-cold skin and rigid body immediately, saw that his face was pale, and that foam was exiting his airway. Cindy checked him for a pulse even though, as a nurse, she knew that was already gone.
Dylan died of fentanyl poisoning one month after his 18th birthday.
Cindy found a few pills in Dylan’s jacket pocket. She searched Dylan’s phone and found that he had purchased the drugs from a Snapchat drug dealer called “gofauni.” Dylan had found this dealer through Snapchat and, at the dealer’s request, used Venmo to pay for what he believed was ecstasy. Instead, the Snapchat dealer sold Dylan pills laced with fatal doses of fentanyl.
After Daniel’s death, “gofauni” continued posting stories on Snapchat depicting drug menus, guns and money withdrawals to boast his successful Snapchat drug business and is under investigation for another Snapchat-related death that occurred just four days later.
Devin Norring, 19, from Hastings, MN
Devin was a shy, down-to-earth young man who always had a spare moment to help those in need. He loved making music, hanging out with friends, and playing sports.
On Saturday morning, April 3, 2020, the Norring family was cleaning their home when Bridgette asked her son Caden to wake up Devin, who was sleeping in later than usual. Caden went to his brother’s room to find Devin’s skin was blue and foam on his lips, having died of fentanyl poisoning.
The investigation into Devin’s death found that he and his friend, Jacob, had connected with a drug dealer through Snapchat. The boys purchased what the dealer was advertising on Snapchat as “Percocet.” But instead, the Snapchat dealer gave them 100 percent pure fentanyl pills.
Jack McCarthy, 19, from Birmingham, MI
Jack was described as a smart and outgoing child who dreamt of going to college and majoring in political science so that he could make a positive difference in the world. He enjoyed wrestling, martial arts, and UFC fighting, as well as writing music and playing his guitar.
He became addicted to Snapchat as a minor and struggled throughout high school because of the mental and physical harm that began with his unauthorized use of Snapchat. Upon graduation from high school, Jack went to college and earned a 3.4 GPA.
On the evening of September 24, 2021, Jack told his mother, Kathy, that he was going over to his friend’s house to hang out. He returned home later that evening. The next morning, Kathy found Jack slumped over in a sitting position on the kitchen floor. He was dead.
Police found an unmarked prescription bottle in his pocket, containing what appeared to be “Xanax” and “Adderall.” They also found messages he had exchanged with a Snapchat drug dealer “detroitwealth” the prior night.
While “portions of the conversation were missing,” according to police reports, they found Jack had purchased what he thought were prescription drugs from “detroitwealth.” Jack attempted to purchase 20 Xanax, 10 Adderall, and one Oxycodone. Jack took the one pill he believed to be Oxycodone and died of fentanyl poisoning shortly thereafter.
Police raided “detroitwealth’s” home and discovered huge amounts of illicit drugs and guns, along with 26 blue pills pressed to look like Oxycodone but that tested positive for fentanyl instead.
Alexandra Capelouto, 20 from Temecula, CA
Alex was a talented and outgoing child. From an early age, she excelled in everything from academics to sports and extracurricular activities. She worked hard in school and was eventually accepted into Arizona State University on a full academic scholarship and dreamt of being a social worker.
In December 2019, Alex came home from college to spend her winter break with her parents and sisters. On the 22nd, she spoke on the phone with her boyfriend late into the evening, after which her family thought she had gone to bed. The next morning, Alex’s mother found her dead. Police later confirmed that Alex died from fentanyl poisoning.
The police investigation showed that she had met a drug dealer through Snapchat. Using Snap Map, the dealer drove to Alex’s home and gave her what she believed to be “Oxycodone,” but was actually a fentanyl pill. Officers at the Riverside Police Department, along with the District Attorney, have subpoenaed Snapchat for records regarding this case, and federal charges are underway against the dealer.
Daniel (Elijah) Figueroa, 20, from Seal Beach, CA
Elijah had a heart of gold and even bigger dreams. He wanted to become an entrepreneur and eventually start charitable businesses with the goal of funding global missions.
Over the summer of 2020, protests were occurring all over the nation, and Elijah’s grandmother, Albertina, was nervous about staying home alone. On September 15, Elijah went to stay at his grandmother’s home to keep her company.
Early the next morning, Albertina woke up to use the restroom and walked past Elijah’s room. She noticed that his lights were on and then saw his body atop the bed with his knees on the floor like he was praying but unresponsive. She immediately called 911, and when Long Beach police officers arrived, he had no pulse and could not be resuscitated.
Detectives served Snap with two subpoenas. Snap failed to comply with the first subpoena claiming it was too broad. The second time police requested information, Snap complied, though it took the maximum time allowed – one month – to do so.
Detectives learned that Elijah had connected with Snapchat drug dealer “Arnoldo_8286” purportedly selling “Percocet.” Elijah attempted to purchase “Percocet” and received 100 percent fentanyl instead.
“Arnoldo_8286” and Snap continued to profit from this Snapchat drug dealing business from September 2020 to April 2021, despite notice from the police and three separate notifications Elijah’s mother, Perla, sent to Snap in late 2020 and early 2021. Snap did not shut down the dangerous account until April 16, 2021, 7 months after Elijah’s death and 4 months after receipt of Perla’s first notification, yet less than 24 hours after Business Insider interviewed Snap and asked why the account had not been taken down.
“A.B.” is a 16-year-old from New Mexico
A.B. was always a very outgoing and positive child who enjoyed swimming, hiking, crafts, and family outings. She also loved animals and wanted to start a pet shelter to rescue and care for stray animals.
A.B. received her first phone when she was 11 years old for safety reasons and could not be used for social media.
When she was 12, A.B. opened her first Snapchat account without her parents’ knowledge or consent, eventually opening four or five different Snapchat accounts using the same email address and phone number for each.
A.B.’s secret use of Snapchat quickly developed into a dependency and coincided with a steady decline in her mental health, including anxiety, depression, exhaustion, and related stresses.
Eventually, Snapchat began recommending her to strangers, many adult males, via its Quick Add feature. A.B. was 13 when Snap exposed her to drug content, including dealer solicitations and exploitation.
When her parents tried to restrict and stop her access to Snapchat, she became angry and suffered from extreme depression and defensiveness. In 2021, at the age of 15, A.B. ran away and was living on the streets with a man she met through Snapchat.
On December 28, 2021, the police contacted A.B.’s parents to tell them she was in the hospital as the result of a fentanyl overdose.
A.B. returned home and is currently living with her parents. However, like millions of other parents, have no means to keep her off Snapchat for fear that she could run away again and possibly suffer another fentanyl poisoning.
About the Social Media Victims Law Center
The Social Media Victims Law Center (SMVLC), socialmediavictims.org, was founded in 2021 to hold social media companies legally accountable for the harm they inflict on vulnerable users. SMVLC seeks to apply principles of product liability to force social media companies to elevate consumer safety to the forefront of its economic analysis and design safer platforms to protect users from foreseeable harm.
About Matthew P. Bergman
Matthew P. Bergman is an attorney, law professor, philanthropist, and community activist who has recovered over $1 billion on behalf of his clients. He is the founder of the Social Media Victims Law Center and Bergman Draper Oslund Udo law firm; a professor at Lewis & Clark Law School; and serves on the board of directors of nonprofit institutions in higher education, national security, civil rights, worker protection, and the arts.
If your child or young family member has suffered from serious depression, chronic eating disorder, hospitalization, sexual exploitation, self-harm, or suicide as a result of their social media use, speak to us today for a no-cost legal consultation.