SALT LAKE CITY — A Cottonwood Heights man accused of heading what federal prosecutors have called an international drug ring pleaded not guilty Thursday.
Aaron Michael Shamo, 27, entered not guilty pleas to charges including possession of fentanyl with intent to distribute, aiding and abetting the importation of a controlled substance, money laundering, and use of the U.S. mail in a drug trafficking offense.
One charge for continuing criminal enterprise carries a mandatory life sentence in prison, while the three importation charges have mandatory 10-year minimum sentences and could land him behind bars for life.
Shamo pleaded not guilty earlier this year to possession of fentanyl with intent to distribute. Fourteen additional charges and five accused co-defendants were added to the indictment in May. Shamo is accused in 12 of the 15 charges.
Prosecutors allege that Shamo made counterfeit prescription drugs in his basement, sold them from an online store on the darknet for bitcoin and then converted the digital currency to cash. During one 11-month stretch from December 2015 to November 2016, the operation mailed 5,606 orders totaling $2.8 million, according to court documents.
As Shamo was arraigned during the brief hearing, assistant U.S. attorney Michael Gadd said that while victims have been identified in the case, they did not wish to speak Thursday. Gadd did not elaborate how the victims had been affected by the alleged drug traffickers.
Gadd also indicated that federal prosecutors intend to indict at least one more person, who has not been identified, in the near future.
Shamo's attorney, Greg Skordas, said as he left the courtroom that while U.S. Attorney John Huber has painted Shamo and others accused in the case as operators of a sophisticated drug operation, he disagreed with the characterization.
"(Investigators) certainly seized a great deal of money, but I think even the government would acknowledge these were a bunch of dumb kids working out of a house in Cottonwood Heights," Skordas said.
The 15-count indictment also names Alexandrya Marie Tonge, 25, and Katherine Lauren Ann Bustin, 26, both of South Jordan, and Mario Anthony Noble, 28, and Sean Michael Gygi, 27, both of Midvale.
At the time of Shamo's arrest in November, agents from the Drug Enforcement Administration discovered a "pill press" in Shamo's home that they said was likely capable of manufacturing several thousand pills an hour. Agents seized 70,000 pills and $1.2 million in cash stuffed in garbage bags during the raid.
While Shamo's case had been advancing toward trial later this year, Skordas said navigating the 8 terabytes of evidence provided by prosecutors and information regarding "dozens" of co-conspirators will take a considerable amount of time.
Shamo was instead scheduled to appear for a status conference Aug. 31 with the other individuals accused in the case.