With undercover Instagram account, DEA nabs alleged Bay Area drug dealer

Original article available at East Bay Times
Written by Nate Gartrell

OAKLAND — While a Hayward man allegedly was posting pictures of Xanax, pot, and guns for sale on Instagram, Drug Enforcement Administration agents were busy taking screenshots.


Last week, federal authorities made their move, arresting 20-year-old Marcos Hatch on charges of trafficking alprazolam, a drug used to treat anxiety. He faces five years in prison, but court documents indicate that the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms is reviewing the case to recommend federal gun charges be filed as well.


Marcos Hatch, seen here in one of the numerous Instagram photos that have now become evidence in a federal drug trafficking case. (U.S. District Court Records)


According to a DEA affidavit released Friday, authorities came across Hatch’s Instagram account while researching another suspected drug dealer named Christian Vanleer. It all started when an undercover Oakland policeman requested to follow Vanleer on Instagram and he accepted, unwittingly allowing the feds access to his pictures and follower lists.

Police also requested to follow some of Vanleer’s followers, including one named “triggerplayornoplay” (sic), who was later identified as Hatch, according to federal agents.

Authorities then began monitoring Hatch’s account day-to-day. They identified about 20 pictures advertising prescription painkillers and Xanax, and believe he used the hashtag #Holla to invite customers to purchase illegal drugs.


In other pictures, other users would do business with Hatch in the comments section. For instance, one user commented on a picture of marijuana, “How much for (an ounce)?” and Hatch replied, “200,” according to federal agents.

Other photos showed stacks of U.S. currency, including one where authorities say Hatch showed his face. It was hashtagged #Takenpenitentiarychances (sic), an indication that, “(Hatch) obtained the large amount of money shown by selling controlled substances, and he was taking a chance that if he got caught, he would be arrested and go to jail,” a federal agent wrote in the affidavit.
In April, more than a month before Hatch was arrested, authorities were given a search warrant to his account and began electronically monitoring his personal messages. They say he had numerous conversations involving the purchasing or selling of handguns and prescription drugs.

On May 16, authorities searched Hatch’s home and seized numerous guns, including an AK-47 in Hatch’s bedroom. They found small amounts of various drugs, clear plastic baggies, scales, and other evidence of drug sales, according to the DEA.

Meanwhile, Vanleer, as it turned out, was being investigated for his alleged role in an unrelated Bay Area drug trafficking ring centered in Discovery Bay, and headed by a man named Oscar Escalante. Authorities say its members distributed heroin, cocaine, methamphetamine, marijuana and prescription pills all over the Bay Area and beyond.

Court documents say federal agents seized hundreds of thousands in cash, dozens of guns, and hundreds of rounds of ammunition when they raided stash houses and marijuana grows associated with the ring. The 2016 case against Escalante, Vanleer, and 14 other defendants is still pending.