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Accused Utah pillmaker linked to fentanyl death goes on trial in federal court

The DEA suspects Aaron Shamo ran a global operation based largely on a synthetic opioid known as fentanyl, which is 50 times more powerful than heroin and linked to overdose deaths across the country. Investigators say he represented the rise of a new kind of drug dealer and an alarming shift in the way Americans were getting illicit narcotics. His trial starts Monday. Family photo
In November of 2016, after conducting surveillance on Aaron Shamo for weeks, the DEA and local cops raided his Cottonwood Heights home, where they seized $1.2 million in cash and discovered a pill press and packages of pills in his basement. USAUT, search warrant filed in the case.
Aaron Shamo Salt Lake County Jail

SALT LAKE CITY โ€” A Cottonwood Heights man accused of making and selling fake painkillers, including fentanyl-laced pills that allegedly caused a man's death, goes on trial Monday in federal court.

Aaron Michael Shamo, 29, ran an international drug trafficking organization that made fake oxycodone pills made with fentanyl imported from China and counterfeit Xanax tablets, prosecutors say.

The pills were sold using bitcoin through a storefront called Pharma-Master on the darknet marketplace Alphabay and the U.S. mail to thousands of people all over the country, at one point raking in $2.8 million in less than a year, court document say.

In November of 2016, after conducting surveillance on Aaron Shamo for weeks, the DEA and local cops raided his Cottonwood Heights home, where they seized $1.2 million in cash and discovered a pill press and packages of pills in his basement.

USAUT, search warrant filed in the case.

In November of 2016, after conducting surveillance on Aaron Shamo for weeks, the DEA and local cops raided his Cottonwood Heights home, where they seized $1.2 million in cash and discovered a pill press and packages of pills in his basement.

Prosecutors allege in a 13-count indictment that Shamo intentionally and knowingly distributed a substance containing fentanyl, the use of which resulted in the 2016 death of a man identified as R.K.

Shamo, 29, also is charged with continuing criminal enterprise, importation and manufacturing of a controlled substance, possession of drugs with intent to distribute, drug trafficking and money laundering. He is being held in the Salt Lake County Jail.

A 14-person jury, including two alternates, was impaneled last Friday. Opening statements in the four-week trial are expected Monday.

Six co-defendants in the case โ€” none of whom were charged with distributing fentanyl resulting in death โ€” have reached plea deals with prosecutors. They are among 44 witnesses prosecutors have identified for the trial.

Those six people packaged and shipped orders, made deliveries to the post office, provided customer service and laundered bitcoin, according to court documents.

Pharma-Master sold drugs to both addicts and redistributors, court documents say. For redistributors who bought large quantities, the price per pill would be lower than for customer who purchased less than 100 at a time.

Investigators arrested Shamo at his house in November 2016. They found a pill press running in the basement and three other presses, including one still in a crate in the garage, and seized $1.2 million in cash, court records say.

Prosecutors say the drug ring sold more than 800,000 pills.

R.K. and his roommate, identified in court documents as G.L., ordered fake oxycodone pills on AlphaBay on June 6, 2016. The shipment arrived five days later.

Late on June 12, R.K. crushed and snorted two of the pills in his room and exhibited effects immediately before falling asleep in his bed, court papers say. G.L. rolled him into the "recovery" position to prevent him from asphyxiating should he vomit during the night.

The next morning, G.L. found R.K. in his bed still in the recovery position and cold to the touch.

Court records say a toxicologist found alcohol, a cocaine metabolite, a cocaine cutting agent and fentanyl in R.K.'s blood. Doctors say the blood and mucus on his face are signs of opioid intoxication.

A forensic toxicology expert who reviewed the case determined that fentanyl that R.K. ingested caused his death, according to court documents.

Investigators raided Shamo's house in November 2016.