SALT LAKE CITY, Utah (ABC4 News) – A 30-year-old man convicted last year for making and selling thousands of fentanyl-laced opioid pills, will spend the rest of his life in prison.
During Thursday’s 10 a.m. sentencing hearing, U.S. District Judge Dale A. Kimball sentenced Aaron Shamo to life in prison.
In a memorandum filed with the federal courts last week, Shamo’s attorneys had argued a life sentence was not just:
“The Government has listed ninety other individuals, apparently now deceased, who at some point bought from Pharma-Master. Most of these individuals had to search for and find Pharma-Master on the darknet in order to purchase drugs. The most unfair implication made by the Government after listing these ninety individuals is that Shamo was the one that sold to them. Shamo represents one of many individuals responsible for how these individuals were sold drugs through the darknet. If it were not for the attributions from other co-defendants, mainly Crandall and Paz, those drugs may have never been sold to those ninety individuals.”
The defense attoney’s statement continued:
“The drug problem that our country faces has two components. The first is the distribution
of drugs and the second is the demand for drugs. All defendants in this matter contributed to the
first component, but only Shamo was charged with a count that mandates a life term of
imprisonment. Now that all defendants are soon to be sentenced, Shamo is the only defendant
guaranteed a life sentence. That is not a just sentence. Regardless of the Government’s theory
that Shamo being sentenced to life will promote respect for the law, there will always be a person
like Drew Crandall with the mindset to “follow the money”. As long as there is a demand, there
will be distribution.”
A US jury convicted Shamo on August 30, 2019, after deliberating for less than a day. Prosecutors called him the “kingpin” of a drug ring that peddled fake opioid pills to thousands of people and was later linked to possibly dozens of overdose deaths.
One of them was a 21-year-old named Ruslan Klyuev who died in his bedroom in Daly City, California, the envelope from Utah at his feet. Shamo was charged in connection to that overdose alone, but when investigators scoured the list of customers they said they counted dozens more dead, according to the Associated Press.
Documents state Shamo bought the fentanyl online from Chinese manufacturers, pressed it into fake oxycodone pills, and then sold it on the dark web.
Shamo claimed he thought he was helping people and while on the witness stand, he downplayed his role saying his friends were also deeply involved as sales of fake oxycodone grew and he told himself he was helping people get drugs they needed while making money for himself and his friends.
According to documents, more than $1 million was found in Shamo’s dresser during the bust and it was made clear in the trial that multiple people were involved in the operation, stating Shamo had help from a handful of friends.
The defense acknowledged that Shamo was selling drugs but argued that he couldn’t have run the operation alone and there wasn’t proof he caused the overdose.
Christopher Sean Kenny, a friend of Shamo’s was charged with conspiracy to distribute fentanyl.
According to an indictment filed on Sept. 30, 2019 in U.S. District Federal Court, a man involved in the operation told investigators Shamo would sell Kenny 1,000 to 2,000 of the fentanyl-laced fake oxycodone every two weeks in the beginning of production, and they started with making a few thousand a month in the beginning, but by the end of Nov 2016, they were making up to 70,000 full strength fentanyl pills per week.
Kenny was charged in 2019 with federal conspiracy to distribute fentanyl and his case is still actively making it’s way through the court system.
Shamo also claimed his roommate and friend Drew Crandall came up with the idea to press their own Xanax pills.
Crandall later pleaded guilty to conspiracy to distribute fentanyl, conspiracy to distribute alprazolam, and money laundering charges and is currently out on bond awaiting sentencing. He faces a minimum of 10-years in prison.
The drug ring began to fall apart when customs agents intercepted a fentanyl package from China. From there, investigators say they worked their way up to the raid on Shamo’s home in November 2016, apparently in the middle of a pill-pressing run.
Associated Press contributed to this report.