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Drug kingpin or ‘good kid’? Aaron Shamo trial gets underway in Salt Lake City

Local (Utah/State News)

SALT LAKE CITY (ABC4 News) – The long-delayed jury trial of a former Eagle Scout accused of running a deadly counterfeit drug operation got underway Monday in front on Judge Dale A. Kimball at the Federal Courthouse downtown.

There were cardboard boxes and plastic bins full of evidence in the courtroom as U.S. Government prosecutors began laying out their case against 29-year-old Aaron Shamo, claiming he masterminded an operation that ordered a powerful drug called fentanyl from China then used it to make fake oxycodone and Xanax tablets which he sold on the dark web.

On November 22, 2016, Drug Enforcement agents raided Shamo’s Cottonwood Heights home where they allege to have confiscated a pill press machine, $1.2 million in cash and a large amount of powdered fentanyl.

“We’re dealing with substances here which are deadly to the touch,” DEA Special Agent in Charge Brian Besser said at the time of the raid. “They can be quickly absorbed into the skin and people die from it, oft times almost immediately…Powdered fentanyl, again extremely potent, extremely dangerous, extremely deadly, that powder form is laying all over the place.”

The government claims the organization distributed more than 800,000 pills before the bust, including ones that caused the fatal overdose of a 21-year-old man, identified only by his initials, R. K. in June of 2016.

The prosecution called two witnesses Monday: a DEA special agent who worked on the investigation and this man, 28-year-old Sean Michael Gygi who testified that Shamo paid him $4000 a month to work as a courier, picking up and mailing drug-filled packages.

On cross-examination, Shamo’s defense attorneys led by Greg Skordas seemed to suggest that the then 26-year-old was not smart enough to set up and operate such an elaborate global drug enterprise.

Their strategy may be to implicate Shamo’s associate Drew Crandall as the actual kingpin. 

Shamo is facing a mandatory life sentence if he’s convicted of running a continuing criminal enterprise. Shamo’s mother Becky says her son is being unfairly singled out and other members of the operation were given “sweetheart deals” to testify against him.

“He’s done some bad things. We will admit to that,” Mrs. Shamo said. “He’s done some bad things. He does not deserve to spend his life in prison and that’s all they’ve ever wanted from day one…He’s a good kid. He’s only 29. He deserves a chance at life.”

This trial will be a marathon, not a sprint. It’s expected to last four weeks.

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