Former Eagle Scout Turned Fentanyl Kingpin Gets His Day In Court

By Kelly Burch 08/15/19

Although the Utah man is only charged in connection with one death, prosecutors say that his pill operation has been linked to "dozens" of fatal overdoses. 

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fentanyl kingpin Aaron Shamo
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A former Eagle Scout from Utah is on trial facing 13 federal charges connected with running an organization that used imported fentanyl from China to produce counterfeit OxyContin and sell it on the dark web, reaping millions in profits. 

The prosecution argues that Aaron Shamo, 29, was the kingpin behind the operation. The defense argues that Shamo was roped into the organization and did not fully understand the consequences of his actions because of a learning disability, according to the AP.

Prosecutor Michael Gadd was blunt during his opening statement: “Death, drugs and money. That’s why we’re here.”

Shamo is being charged with criminal enterprise, drug trafficking and money laundering. He is also facing charges in connection to the death of one customer who snorted a pill that Shamo made and died. However, his defense attorney said that he is only guilty of some of the charges. 

“He’s guilty of many of these counts. Aaron’s owning what he did,” defense attorney Greg Skordas said, according to Deseret News. However, “the evidence will not establish that Aaron Shamo caused the death of another, or that he was the organizer, leader, mastermind of this organization,” Skordas added.

The Big Raid

Law enforcement raided the home where Shamo lived with his parents in 2016. They found a pill press in the basement, along with hundreds of thousands of pills and more than $1 million in cash. Shamo—who had up to 20 employees at some points—reportedly paid people to allow fentanyl to be shipped to their homes. He collected the drugs, cut them with other substances, pressed pills and stamped them so that they resembled authentic prescription pills. That allowed him to produce a pill for 1 cent, and sell it for up to $20 on the dark web.

Despite that level of sophistication, Shamo’s parents insist he should not be found guilty of all charges. 

“They’re just a bunch of kids who did really bad things,” his mother Becky Shamo said. “He’s a good kid. He’s only 29. He deserves a chance at life.” 

His father Mike said, “He was brought in and saw the opportunity for making money, and he didn’t truly understand the danger behind what he was doing, how dangerous the drugs were. I think he was able to separate what he was doing because he never saw the customer. To him, it was just numbers on a screen.”

Although Shamo is only charged in connection with one death, prosecutors say that his pill operation has been linked to "dozens" of fatal overdoses. 

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Kelly Burch writes about addiction and mental health issues, particularly as they affect families. Follow her on TwitterFacebook, and LinkedIn.

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