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Accused drug kingpin left parents holding bag of cash

Aaron Shamo
Aaron Shamo
Courtesy Shamo family

SALT LAKE CITY — The mother of a Utah man accused of masterminding an international drug ring that led to an overdose death was pleased that her son had finally heeded her advice to save some money.

Becky Shamo testified in federal court Monday that Aaron Shamo didn’t trust banks so he brought her and his dad, Mike Shamo, a “shoe bag” full of cash for them to hold at their home in Phoenix and “we threw it in the closet.”

The bag “just sat there” until Aaron Shamo was arrested in 2016, Becky Shamo testified. The couple contacted federal agents through an attorney to pick up the cash. Becky Shamo said she counted the money so she would know how much she was handing over to the government and placed it in an Amazon Prime box.

Aaron Shamo also gave his sister a backpack full of cash to deliver to his parents, though Becky Shamo testified they didn’t know what was in it. She also said they never spent any of the money.

According to court documents, Aaron Shamo gave his family more than $429,000 to hold for him.

Prosecutors rested their case Monday against Shamo, who is expected to testify on his own behalf before the case goes to the jury later this week.

The 29-year-old Cottonwood Heights man is on trial for charges alleging he made millions of dollars from sales of fake oxycodone laced with fentanyl from China and fake counterfeit Xanax tablets.

Shamo’s defense attorney, Greg Skordas, acknowledged his client committed some crimes in selling the drugs on the darknet, but that he did not cause anyone’s death and was not a kingpin.

Though witnesses aren’t typically allowed in the courtroom except to testify, prosecutors let the Shamoses and their daughter Stephanie Shamo Arbelaez sit through the trial.

Becky Shamo testified that it has been difficult to listen to some of the characterizations of her only son.

“He’s my son. I love him,” she said, conceding there are times when “I want to strangle him.”

Aaron Shamo attended speech therapy as a child and struggled with learning and making friends in school, Becky Shamo testified. She described him as distracted and unable to focus. She said he doesn’t understand innuendo or sarcasm.

The parents placed him in a nine-week wilderness program when he was 15 and later in a residential program for 21 months until he was 18.

“He never was really good at choosing friends, and evidently still isn’t,” Becky Shamo said.

Aaron Shamo attended Utah Valley University, but didn’t finish a lot of his classes, she said.

Arbelaez testified that her younger brother was the victim of childhood bullying.

“I watched him get bullied all growing up and I have watched it again in this courtroom,” she said, adding that she traveled from her home in Nevada to attend the trial because “everybody needs somebody on his side.”

“Aaron would have done anything to have friends,” Arbelaez said. “I watched him try to fit in.”

Shamo recruited employees, including onetime co-workers from his former job at Ebay, to either receive shipments of pill ingredients or tuck the final products in wrappers with cartoon drawings on them and priority mail envelopes before depositing them in U.S. Postal Service drop boxes in the Salt Lake Valley, prosecutors say.

Six co-defendants in the case — none of whom were charged with distributing fentanyl resulting in death — have reached agreements with prosecutors. They were among the witnesses prosecutors called to testify during the past two weeks. The defense is expected to conclude its case in the next two days. U.S. District Judge Dale Kimball said the case could go to the jury Thursday.