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Feds link overdose death to accused Cottonwood Heights pill maker in new charges

Aaron Shamo
Aaron Shamo
Weber County Sheriff's via Associated Press

SALT LAKE CITY — Federal prosecutors have linked a fentanyl overdose death to a man accused of running an international pill-making operation out of his Cottonwood Heights home, according to new criminal charges.

A 13-count indictment filed Thursday alleges that Aaron Shamo intentionally and knowingly distributed a substance containing fentanyl, the use of which resulted in the June 13, 2016, death of a person identified as R.K.

Authorities earlier said they were investigating as many as 28 overdose deaths they believed could be connected to the drug ring.

The new counts come a day after one of Shamo's co-defendants admitted in court to his role in the operation.

Shamo 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.

Shamo, 28, pleaded not guilty to charges in the previous indictment and a three-week trial in U.S. District Court is scheduled to start in January. He is being held in the Weber County Jail.

Prosecutors allege Shamo ran an international drug trafficking organization that imported fentanyl and alprazolam from China and made fake oxycodone pills and Xanax tablets. The drugs were sold on the darknet — an area of the internet often used for illegal activity — to thousands of people all over the country, at one point raking in $2.8 million in less than a year, court document say.

Agents found about 70,000 pills that looked like oxycodone and more than 25,000 pills that appeared to be alprazolam in search of Shamo's house in November 2016, according to court documents. Prosecutors say the drug ring sold more than 800,000 pills.

On Wednesday, Drew Crandall pleaded guilty to conspiracy to distribute fentanyl and alprazolam, and conspiracy to commit money laundering.

Crandall, most recently of Brisbane, Australia, admitted in court that he and Shamo imported and sold drugs on the darknet. He left the organization but stayed in contact with Shamo and provided online customer support for Shamo's vendor account on AlphaBay until Shamo's arrest in November 2016.

Crandall faces up to life in prison with a mandatory minimum 10-year prison sentence for the conspiracy to distribute fentanyl conviction; up to five years for the for conspiracy to distribute alprazolam; and a maximum of 20 years for conspiracy to commit money laundering.

Prosecutors have agreed to recommend Crandall be sentenced at the low end of the guideline range determined by the judge.

Four other defendants have also reached plea agreements in the case but have not been sentenced.