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Lawyer says life sentence unjust for Utah man who sold fentanyl-laced drugs

Two men in protective suits exit a residence as local and federal law enforcement agencies respond to a drug bust in Cottonwood Heights on Tuesday, Nov. 22, 2016. Drug Enforcement Administration agents discovered at least several hundred thousand illicit fentanyl pills at a home in what they called an “absolutely catastrophic” undercover drug dealing operation
Two men in protective suits exit a residence as local and federal law enforcement agencies respond to a drug bust in Cottonwood Heights on Tuesday, Nov. 22, 2016. Drug Enforcement Administration agents discovered at least several hundred thousand illicit fentanyl pills at a home in what they called an “absolutely catastrophic” undercover drug dealing operation
Scott G Winterton, Deseret News

SALT LAKE CITY — A lawyer for a Utah man who prosecutors painted as the mastermind of a drug trafficking operation that sold fentanyl-laced fake pain pills on the darknet says his client shouldn’t have to spend the rest of his life behind bars.

Defense attorney Greg Skordas said the life sentence Aaron Shamo faces is unjust. Two other defendants in the case who Skordas said are equally culpable were never charged with continuing a criminal enterprise, as was Shamo. The crime carries a mandatory-minimum sentence of life in prison.

Aaron Shamo
Aaron Shamo
Salt Lake County Jail

All the defendants in the case contributed to the illegal distribution of drugs, but only Shamo, 30, was charged with a count that mandates a life sentence, Skordas wrote in a memorandum in U.S. District Court.

Judge Dale Kimball is scheduled to sentence Shamo on Thursday after a jury last year found him guilty of 12 of 13 felony charges. Jurors didn’t make a decision on whether Shamo sold drugs that resulted in the death of a 21-year-old California man.

Six other defendants, including some who testified against Shamo, struck plea deals with government prosecutors. They will be sentenced after Shamo.

“Whether Shamo is sentenced before or after his co-defendants, it is very evident that there will no doubt be sentencing disparities,” Skordas wrote, noting it was some of them, not Shamo, who came up the idea to press pills and figure out the formulas to make the drugs.

Government prosecutors described Shamo as the person behind a drug trafficking organization that made and sold hundreds of thousands of counterfeit Xanax and fake oxycodone laced with fentanyl on the darknet. Prosecutors listed 90 people in court documents who they say died as a result of buying drugs from a website called Pharma-Master.

“The most unfair implication made by the government after listing these 90 individuals is that Shamo was the one that sold to them. Shamo represents one of many individuals responsible for how these individuals were sold drugs through the darknet,” Skordas wrote.

Shamo has been in federal custody since his arrest in November 2016.