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September 5, 2019Salt Lake City, UT, United StatesNarcotics, Cyber Crimes

Utah man convicted of distributing narcotics in multi-million-dollar drug ring

More than 500,000 counterfeit pills distributed throughout the country
This HSI-generated graphic introduced at trial illustrates the U.S. zip codes where Aaron Shamo trafficked fentanyl illegally imported from China. Each zip code represents a location where other drug dealers received and further distributed the forged fentanyl pills Shamo manufactured.

SALT LAKE CITY — A Utah man was found guilty Friday of organizing and directing a nationwide drug trafficking organization that imported opioids from China and used the drugs to manufacture fake prescription medications sold throughout the U.S.

This case was investigated by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI), Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), IRS’s Criminal Investigation, U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s Office of Criminal Investigations, and U.S. Postal Inspection Service.

Aaron Michael Shamo, 29, of Cottonwood Heights, Utah, was found guilty after a jury trial of his peers found he orchestrated the import and distribution of fentanyl from China. Shamo faces a potential mandatory-minimum life sentence for his actions.

“A major narcotics and money laundering operation was dismantled due to the technological expertise of our agents and law enforcement partners,” said Steven Cagen, special agent in charge of HSI Denver. “Criminals who ruthlessly seek profits and personal gain at the expense of victims in our communities can’t hide in the dark web. We remain steadfast in our resolve to bring to justice those that push dangerous drugs into our neighborhoods and contribute to the epidemic of opioid addiction in our country.”

Shamo and his co-conspirators purchased pill presses to manufacture pills that appeared to be legitimate pharmaceutical drugs. Shamo then distributed the controlled substances to other individuals using their storefront, Pharma-Master, located on the Dark Net marketplace AlphaBay. They used the U.S. Postal Service to deliver their counterfeit narcotics in all 50 states. Federal law enforcement agents and prosecutors agree that an undercover purchase of 100 oxycodone pills is a substantial step in an investigation; Shamo was found guilty of selling half a million pills – or more.

Shamo, was the founder and CEO of Pharma-Master, and maintained control of the majority of the functions of the enterprise. He established the dark web storefront, hired employees, took charge of marketing and product placement. He became the drug dealer to other drug dealers.

He held the relationships with the contacts in China to order the illicit fentanyl. Investigators were led to Shamo as they followed the proceeds of the drug trafficking organization via cryptocurrency transactions. He maintained sole access to incoming Bitcoin payments from customers.

The illicit pills were developed through a dangerous “trial and error” process as he distributed it to individuals across the country.

Experts say one milligram of fentanyl in a pill can have dangerous consequences to individuals who consume it up to and including death.

When customers complained to Shamo that his pills were making them sick, he responded by shipping even more dangerous narcotics to them. There was no shortage of fake pain pills. Co-defendants in the case, who were responsible for packaging and shipping, used a vacuum to clean up pills from the floor because they believed it was not worth their time to pick them up because of the volume of pills they were manufacturing.

The jury convicted Shamo of engaging in a continuing criminal enterprise, three counts of aiding and abetting the importation of a controlled substance, possession of a controlled substance with intent to distribute, manufacture of a controlled substance, and two counts of knowing and intentional adulteration of drugs while held for sale. The jury also found Shamo guilty of aiding and abetting the use of the U.S. mail in furtherance of a drug trafficking offense, conspiracy to commit money laundering, money laundering promotion and concealment, and engaging in monetary transactions in property derived from specified unlawful activity.

“The opioid crisis has devastated individuals, families, and entire communities across the nation.  Aaron Shamo controlled and led a highly profitable organization that delivered fentanyl-laced counterfeit pills to every state in the union,” U.S. Attorney John W. Huber said. “Though his customers remained faceless on the dark web, their despair was real. Shamo profited off that despair and a jury of his peers has held him accountable.”

Sentencing in the case is scheduled for Dec. 3 in U.S. District Judge Dale A. Kimball’s courtroom. Shamo remains in U.S. Marshals custody. Sentencings are pending for the co-conspirators in this case, who reached plea agreements with federal prosecutors.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Vernon Stejskal of the U.S. Attorney’s Office, District of Utah, and Special Assistant U.S. Attorneys Michael Gadd and Kent A. Burggraaf prosecuted this case. Gadd and Burggraaf are Assistant Attorneys General in the Utah Attorney General’s Office.