UC-Santa Cruz

Jennifer Hidges/KCBS Radio

UC Santa Cruz Student Accused Of Selling Drugs Through App

Jennifer Hodges
February 20, 2019 - 12:19 pm

SANTA CRUZ -- An 18-year-old U.C. Santa Cruz student has been arrested for selling drugs through an iPhone app disguised as harmless fun, according to police. 

A federal grand jury indicted Collin Riley Howard on charges that he sold drugs, including ecstasy, cocaine and psychedelic mushrooms, through an app he named after his school’s mascot, the banana slug.

The app was called The Banana Plug, a clever play on words—“plug” is slang for drug dealer. The ruse was discovered after a campus police officer spotted posters for the app, which encouraged users to make “special requests.”

Howard was arrested on Feb. 15 and charged with one count of distribution and possession with intent to distribute methamphetamine, after allegedly selling the drugs to an undercover agent who made four purchases through the app. Howard faces up to 40 years in prison and fines of $5 million for each of the violations.

Among students on campus, reactions were mixed.

Some told KCBS Radio they found the app “creative,” but others expressed surprise that such a criminal enterprise could happen where they live and study.

“It is impressive that they got away with it,” said one student, while another pointed out that there may be less fear of drugs in Santa Cruz, where cultural attitudes are traditionally more relaxed toward experimentation with substances.

“It doesn’t surprise me at all that a university student would have the skills necessary to build an iPhone app that could do anything, including selling drugs,” said KCBS Tech Analyst Larry Magid.

“Apple does vet apps before they’re allowed on the App Store, but apparently this one slipped through—possibly because it was successfully disguised as a game,” he said, and noted that even Apple lacks the capacity to sift through the fine details of each and every app.

Written by Jordan Bowen.