Utah man charged in death linked to alleged opioid drug ring

Utah man charged in death linked to alleged opioid drug ring

SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — A Utah man accused of running a multimillion operation selling powerful opioids disguised as prescription drugs has been charged in an overdose death and other counts in a new indictment that comes as his co-defendants plead guilty in agreements with prosecutors.

A person identified as R.K. died in June 2016 after taking fentanyl that Aaron Michael Shamo, 28, sold to the person. It was pressed into pills to look like the less-powerful drug oxycodone, federal prosecutors said in court documents filed Thursday.

Fentanyl has been blamed for thousands of fatal overdoses in the U.S., including the death of entertainer Prince.

Defense attorney Greg Skordas called the new charges “incredibly disappointing and unjustified,” saying Shamo has fully cooperated with authorities while jailed for over a year in the case. He said it’s unclear how prosecutors can establish that the death can be directly tied to Shamo.

The new charges come as prosecutors strike plea deals with others charged in the case, including a new agreement with Shamo’s alleged second-in-command. Drew Crandall, 32, faces at least 10 years in prison after pleading guilty to drug-distribution and money laundering charges. Crandall was arrested last year in Hawaii, where authorities say he planned to marry his girlfriend after a globe-trotting trip through Australia, New Zealand and other countries.

Crandall’s lawyer, Jim Bradshaw, declined to comment.

Shamo is accused of making the pills in his suburban Salt Lake City basement and selling them on the dark web — 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. A trial is set for Jan. 22.

Authorities have said the 500,000-pill bust at Shamo’s home in 2016 was among the largest of its kind in the country, showing how a small operation can have an outsized impact.

Prosecutors have said the members of the drug ring met working at an eBay facility near Salt Lake City. They bought fentanyl and other drugs from China, used a pill press to make them look like prescription drugs and then shipped them out to customers through the U.S. mail disguised as coffee or other innocuous products, according to court documents.

Defense attorneys have called their clients “dumb kids,” and have said they are not hardened criminals.