California student accused of making ‘Banana Plug’ drug app

  • This undated photo released by the Santa Cruz County Sheriff’s Office shows Collin Howard, a University of California, Santa Cruz student, who is facing felony charges for allegedly creating an iPhone app he dubbed the Banana Plug to sell illicit drugs. (Santa Cruz County Sheriff’s Office via AP)

SAN FRANCISCO — A Northern California college freshman is facing felony charges for allegedly creating an iPhone app he dubbed the Banana Plug to sell illicit drugs.

Collin Howard on Tuesday pleaded not guilty to federal drug charges in San Jose after a grand jury indicted him on Feb. 14. Howard, 18, had earlier pleaded not guilty to similar drug charges in Santa Cruz County where he was arrested in his dorm room at the University of California, Santa Cruz on Nov. 28.

The investigation began in November when a university campus police officer noticed one of many posters hung on campus advertising an app called Banana Plug, prosecutors said. The school’s mascot is the banana slug and plug is slang for a drug dealer.

Banana Plug could be downloaded from Apple’s online store and was advertised as a free game with the motto “We Have What You Want,” but users could place drug orders through the app, investigators said.

Campus police and Department of Homeland Security agents said they launched an undercover sting operation that included four drug buys using the app.

University spokesman Scott Hernandez-Jason said Howard is “no longer a student UC Santa Cruz.” Citing student privacy laws, Hernandez-Jason declined to say if Howard was expelled or voluntarily withdrew.

Howard’s federal public defender, Rhona Taylor, did not immediately respond to phone and email messages seeking comment. Howard was freed on bail in federal and state court.

U.S. Attorney spokesman Abraham Simmons did not immediately respond to emailed questions about why federal charges were filed after Howard was charged in state court in Santa Cruz.


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