The Drug Counterfeiters Next Door: Fentanyl-laced Oxycodone Pills Distributed from Utah Suburb

A Utah man and five friends are facing federal drug trafficking, drug counterfeiting, mail and wire-fraud charges for allegedly distributing hundreds of thousands of counterfeit prescription medications laced with fentanyl, a Department of Justice (DOJ) press release reports.

The DOJ alleges that Aaron Michael Shamo and his co-conspirators turned his suburban Cottonwood Heights home into a hub for producing and distributing counterfeit oxycodone throughout the United States.  According to the Deseret News, agents discovered a pill press in Shamo’s house that was capable of producing several thousand pills an hour and that “agents seized 70,000 pills and $1.2 million in cash stuffed in garbage bags during the raid.”

In an article that appeared in Deseret News shortly after his indictment, the wholesome-looking Shamo was described as “a new kind of drug dealer and an alarming shift in the way Americans were getting illicit narcotics.” Unlike the typical drug cartel, which has hundreds of employees located all over the globe, Shamo is alleged to have used the Internet and just a handful of friends to operate a fentanyl pill distribution network with nationwide reach.

According to Shamo’s superseding indictment, Shamo is alleged to have “knowingly and intentionally manufactured a drug and caused the manufacture of a drug-specifically, round blue tablets with ‘M’ on one side and a ‘30’above a bisect on the other-and offered those tablets for sale on the intemet as ‘oxycodone 30 mg.’ Despite these representations, the defendant did not use oxycodone at all in the manufacturing process, but instead, substituted fentanyl, a much more potent synthetic opioid,” prescribed for elephant and rhinoceros tranquilizing as well as for use in patches for end of life palliative care. The DOJ warns that the adulterated counterfeit drugs were very dangerous and even deadly to humans.  The Standard-Examiner reports that they also had counterfeit pills made to look like Xanax.

The DOJ notes that due to the vast quantities of drugs involved, Shamo faces possible life in prison if he is convicted. He currently remains in custody since his arrest in November 2016. Of his co-conspirators, Drew Crandall, an Australian native, was arrested in Hawaii last month. Alexandrya Tonge, Katherine Bustin, Mario Noble, and Sean Gygi are due to be summoned to federal court shortly.  With the exception of Crandall, all the alleged conspirators are Utah residents under the age of thirty.

U.S. Attorney for Utah John Huber said that because the pills looked like legitimate mediation they were particularly dangerous, reports the Standard-Examiner. Officials believe that 8,000 shipments around the country originated from Shamo and his co-conspirators. The indictment lists shipments of counterfeit fentanyl pills to California, Colorado, Connecticut, Florida, Illinois, Kentucky, Louisiana, Massachusetts, Maryland, Maine, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Montana, North Carolina, New York, Ohio, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Texas and Virginia. 

This case is being investigated by Special agents of Homeland Security Investigations, the DEA, IRS Criminal Investigation, FDA Office of Criminal Investigations, and U.S. Postal Inspectors, and prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorney Vernon Stejskal and Special Assistant U.S. Attorney Michael Gadd.