Ex-Eagle Scout Turned Kingpin Found Guilty Of Fentanyl Trafficking Ring

By Paul Gaita 09/19/19

 The 29-year-old Utah man is facing a life sentence.

Former Eagle Scout talking to officer

The Justice Department reported that a Utah resident has been found guilty on 12 counts of organizing and directing a drug trafficking ring that was allegedly linked to several overdose deaths.

Aaron Shamo, 29, of Salt Lake City, Utah, faces a possible mandatory minimum life sentence in prison for his role in a multimillion-dollar scheme, regarded by law enforcement as one of the largest in the country, that produced hundreds of thousands of counterfeit oxycodone tablets, which were made with the powerful synthetic opioid fentanyl, and fake Xanax tablets.

Deadlocked on the 13th Count

Shamo—described by ABC News as a former Eagle Scout and aspiring entrepreneur—was found guilty on 12 of 13 charges handed down by a grand jury, which was deadlocked on the final charge of aiding and abetting the distribution of fentanyl resulting in death.

According to CBS, court documents showed that Shamo and co-conspirator Drew Crandall met while working at an eBay call center and reportedly formulated a plan to sell their own prescriptions of Adderall on the dark web. The pair used the funds to purchase other drugs, including cocaine and MDMA, which they paid friends to receive at their homes.

Setting Up The Empire

Eventually, their organization grew to producing their own pills, beginning with counterfeit Xanax made from the anxiety drug alprazolam, and later fentanyl, ordered from China, manufactured with a pill press, and sold via an online store called Pharma-Master. As ABC News noted, Shamo and his partners sold thousands of pills per week at $10 per pill.

But as the Justice Department release showed, customers began complaining to Shamo that they were getting sick from his product, and in June of 2016, 21-year-old Ruslan Klyuev died from an apparent overdose of fentanyl, alcohol and a substance associated with cocaine after purchasing pills from Pharma-Master. Three other individuals that purchased pills from Shamo's company died from overdoses, though Shamo was only charged with Klyuev's death.

Despite this, Shamo and Crandall were reportedly earning vast amounts of money from their operation, as indicated by social media posts of trips to Southeast Asia and purchases of a BMW and a boat.

Pharma-Master's end came as swiftly as its ascent: a customs agent in Los Angeles seized a package of fentanyl in 2016 that was intended for a third party reportedly hired by Shamo. Federal agents pressed the recipient to deliver subsequent packages to the police, including one that contained more than 34,000 pills. Shamo's house was raided in November of that year, and intercepted Crandall while en route to his wedding in Hawaii in 2017.

Shamo was convicted of 12 counts, including engaging in a continuing criminal enterprise, possession and manufacture of a controlled substance, conspiracy to commit money laundering and two counts of knowing and intentional adulteration of drugs while held for sale. Crandall, who pled guilty in 2018 to conspiracy to distribute controlled substances and commit money laundering, reached a plea deal with prosecutors and served as a witness in Shamo's trial.

Both face possible life sentences, though prosecutors have agreed to recommend a reduced sentence for Crandall, as determined by the judge. Sentencing for Shamo is set for December 3, 2019.

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Paul Gaita lives in Los Angeles. He has contributed to the Los Angeles Times, Variety, LA Weekly, Amazon.com and The Los Angeles Beat, among many other publications and websites.