After participating in and being convicted of the most serious crime in the Controlled Substance Act, Aaron Michael Shamo, the CEO of a national dark net drug distribution enterprise that distributed more than half a million counterfeit pills across the country, will spend life in federal prison. In Salt Lake City, U.S. District Judge Dale A. Kimball placed the sentence on Thursday morning.
After a trial in August 2019, a federal jury found Shamo guilty of organizing and managing a drug trafficking enterprise that smuggled fentanyl and alprazolam from China and used the narcotics to create fake pills of oxycodone manufactured with fentanyl and counterfeit Xanax tablets. At the trial, forty-seven witnesses appeared and hundreds of exhibits were received as evidence.
Shamo, 30, of Cottonwood Heights, Utah, was convicted by the jury of engaging in an ongoing criminal activity, three counts of facilitating and promoting the importation of a controlled substance, possession of a controlled substance for delivery, manufacture of a controlled substance, and two counts of awareness and deliberate adulteration of drugs while being held for sale. The jury also found Shamo guilty of facilitating and promoting the use of the Mail to encourage a drug trafficking crime, conspiracy to commit money laundering, promotion and concealment of money laundering, and engaging in monetary transactions on property resulting from stated illegal activity. On 12 of the 13 counts in the indictment, Shamo was found guilty. The jury did not make a judgement on the help and support of the sale of fentanyl that resulted in the death count.
By the end of 2016, as Shamo was selling his fentanyl-laced oxycodone across the country, the nation’s opioid crisis was in full force. Using their storefront, PHARMA-MASTER, on the Dark Net marketplace AlphaBay and the United States mail, Shamo sold the controlled drugs to other individuals for sale in all 50 states. In a narcotics case, federal law enforcement officers and prosecutors agree an undercover purchase of 100 oxycodone pills is a major move. On the dark net, Shamo sold more than half a million fentanyl-laced tablets. He sold hundreds of thousands of tablets of fentanyl locally as well. Prosecutors told the jury that Shamo, the Pharma Master, became the guy he set out to be.
Proof at the trial proved that Shamo was engaged in activites the leader and organizers did. He was in charge of most of the enterprise ‘s operations. He built the front of the dark web shop, recruited staff, took care of marketing and product placement. To other drug dealers, he was a drug dealer. His contacts were in China and he ordered fentanyl. Most notably, when they tracked the profits of the drug trafficking enterprise, investigators were led to Shamo. He had exclusive access to customers’ incoming bitcoin payments. The organization was referred to by Shamo as his child and his kingdom, prosecutors claimed at trial.
Through an unsafe “trial and error” process, Shamo developed the fentanyl product as he sold it to people across the world, evidence showed. Experts warn that, up to and including death, 1 milligram of fentanyl in a pill may have harmful consequences. Shamo got messages that they were getting sick from customers. His reaction, prosecutors said, was to give the complaining customers more pills. There was no shortage of fake pills for pain. In the case, co-defendants, who were liable for packing and delivery, used a vacuum to clean up pills from the floor because they felt it was not worth their time to pick them up because of the amount of pills they made.
Federal prosecutors advised the Court in their sentencing report that the true scope of the victims of the defendant can not be determined. Since Shamo sold the fentanyl-laced fake oxycodone pills in bulk to dealers, investigators were not always able to find the final consumers of the pills. Data suggests that from subsequent overdoses, more than 90 people died.
In November, a restitution hearing in the case will be held.