Drug Ring Ran Multi-Million Dollar Counterfeit Pill Operation From Basement

By Victoria Kim 06/02/17

The six-person operation reportedly made nearly $3 million in less than a year selling counterfeit prescription pills on the dark net. 

Closeup of a man's hand opening pill bottle

A Utah drug ring that scored huge profits from selling hundreds of thousands of counterfeit prescription drugs on the internet is facing a slew of drug and money laundering charges, among others, according to a statement by the Department of Justice.

The six accused members of the drug trafficking operation, including alleged ringleader 27-year-old Aaron Shamo, would purchase drugs from China, then use pill presses, dyes, stamps, and binding agents to make them resemble oxycodone and anti-anxiety pills

The operation, allegedly run out of Shamo’s basement in Cottonwood Heights (a wealthy suburb of Salt Lake City), made $2.8 million in less than a year selling the counterfeit pills on their “dark net online store” disguised as legitimate prescription drugs, authorities say. The co-conspirators, all between the ages of 25-30, met while working at eBay.

U.S. Attorney for Utah John Huber said Wednesday (May 31) that a search of Shamo’s home yielded 500,000 counterfeit pills—including fake Xanax—guns, and more than $1 million in cash.

According to the DOJ, the drug ring used fentanyl to manufacture the fake prescription drugs. Fentanyl, a synthetic opioid said to be 100 times stronger than morphine, is traditionally used to relieve post-surgery pain. But lately it’s been turning up mixed in with batches of street heroin, causing a rise in opioid overdoses, some of them fatal.

Authorities estimate that about 8,000 drug shipments could be tracked to the Utah operation, amounting to hundreds of thousands of pills distributed throughout Utah and the U.S. 

If convicted of just one of the 11 charges brought against him—knowingly and intentionally engaging in a continuing criminal enterprise—Aaron Shamo could get life in prison for his role in the drug trafficking organization. 

If convicted of conspiracy to distribute fentanyl, Shamo could get a maximum penalty of life in prison with a mandatory minimum of 10 years and a $10 million fine, according to the DOJ.

It's clear that drugs are as lucrative as ever, and that’s not going to change any time soon. “America has an inescapable appetite for drugs. Until we can change the paradigm on how we deal with pain and how we self-medicate, this problem is going to continue to proliferate,” said DEA agent Brian Besser, according to ABC News.

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Victoria is interested in anything that has to do with how mind-altering substances impact society. Find Victoria on LinkedIn or Tumblr