SALT LAKE CITY – A federal grand jury returned a superseding indictment Wednesday morning charging six individuals in what the indictment alleges is an international drug trafficking organization involved in manufacturing fake prescription drugs made from Fentanyl. Hundreds of thousands of the fake pills were then distributed throughout Utah and the United States to customers who had ordered pills from their dark net online store.
Charged in the indictment are Aaron Michael Shamo, age 27, of Cottonwood Heights, Utah; Drew Wilson Crandall, age 30, of Brisbane, Australia; Alexandrya Marie Tonge, age 25, and Katherine Lauren Ann Bustin, age 26, both of South Jordan; and Mario Anthony Noble, age 28, and Sean Michael Gygi, age 27, both of Midvale.
Announcing today’s indictment are U.S. Attorney John W. Huber, DEA District Agent in Charge Brian S. Besser, Homeland Security Investigations Special Agent in Charge John Eisert, IRS Criminal Investigation Special Agent in Charge Tara Sullivan, FDA Office of Criminal Investigations Special Agent in Charge Spencer E. Morrison, and Jared Bingham, U.S. Postal Inspector and Team Leader for the Salt Lake City Postal Inspection Service.
According to documents filed in federal court, the organization began with Aaron Michael Shamo and Drew Wilson Crandall, but grew to include other co-conspirators. Shamo and Crandall, according to court records, purchased pill presses, dies and stamps to mark pills so the markings would match those of legitimate pharmaceutical drugs, and inert pill ingredients, such as binding agents and colors. Some items were purchased legally and others, such as Fentanyl and Alprazolam, were imported into the United States illegally, including from China. To avoid detection, Shamo and Crandall had many of their supplies shipped to nominees or straw purchasers.
The ingredients were then be pressed into pills that had the appearance of legitimate pharmaceuticals. The fake Oxycodone-type pills and the counterfeit Alprazolam tablets were sold on the dark net at a significant profit. Once sold, Shamo and Crandall used the co-conspirators to package the pills and ship them to customers. According to documents filed in court, the enterprise sold hundreds of thousands of pills in Utah and throughout the United States.
The indictment alleges that Shamo, working in concert with at least five other people, occupied a position of principal administrator, organizer, supervisor and leader of a continuing criminal enterprise, which involved possession with intent to distribute and distribution of more than 12,000 grams of a mixture and substance containing a detectable amount of Fentanyl, a controlled substance. The indictment further alleges that Shamo obtained substantial income and resources through the continuing series of violations. Count 1 of the indictment charges Shamo with knowingly and intentionally engaging in a continuing criminal enterprise.
Counts 2 through 9 and count 12 of the indictment charge various defendants in the case with alleged violations of federal law committed as predicate acts in support of the continuing criminal enterprise. The counts include conspiracy to distribute Fentanyl, conspiracy to distribute Alprazolam, aiding and abetting the importation of a controlled substance, possession of Fentanyl with intent to distribute, manufacture of Alprazolam, and use of the United States mail in furtherance of as drug trafficking offense.
Counts 10 and 11 of the indictment charge Shamo with knowing and intentional adulteration of drugs held for sale. The counts allege Shamo manufactured round blue tablets and offered those tables for sale on the internet as “Oxycodone 30 mg.” Count 10 alleges the tablets were debossed with “A 215” on the bisected side. Count 11 alleges the tablets were manufactured with an “” on one side and a “30” above the bisect on the other side. Such markings mimick the markings of legitimate Oxycodone tablets. Despite those representations, the indictment alleges the defendants did not use Oxycodone at all in the manufacturing process, but instead, substituted Fentanyl, a much more potent synthetic opioid. The indictment alleges the adulteration had a reasonable probability of causing serious adverse health consequences or death to humans.
The final three counts of the indictment allege conspiracy to commit money laundering, money laundering concealment and engaging in monetary transactions in property derived from specified unlawful activities. The indictment also includes a notice seeking criminal forfeiture of currency, automobiles, a pill press, and a variety of pill dies and punches used as a part of the alleged criminal enterprise.
Indictments are not findings of guilt. Individuals charged in an indictment are presumed innocent unless or until proven guilty in court.
Because of the volume of drugs involved in the case, Shamo faces mandatory life in prison if convicted of Count 1. The potential maximum penalty for Count 2 in the indictment, conspiracy to distribute Fentanyl, is life in prison with a mandatory minimum 10 years and a $10 million fine. The potential penalty for Count 3, conspiracy to distribute Alprazolam, is five years and a fine of $250,000. Count 4 and Count 6, aiding and abetting the importation of a controlled substance (Fentanyl) have potential penalties of 40 years with a mandatory minimum five years and a $5 million fine. The potential penalty for Count 5, aiding and abetting the importation of a controlled substance (Alprazolam) is five years and a fine of $250,000. Counts 7 and 8, possession of Fentanyl with intent to distribute, have potential penalties of life in prison with a mandatory minimum 10 years and a $10 million fine. Count 9, manufacture of Alprazolam, has a potential penalty of five years sand a fine of $250,000. The potential maximum penalty for Count 10 and 11, knowing and intentional adulteration of drugs while held for sale, is up to 20 years and a fine of $1 million. Count 12, use of the U.S. mail in furtherance of a drug trafficking offense, has a potential penalty of four years and a $250,000 fine. Money laundering Counts 13 and 14 have 20-year potential maximum penalties and fines of $250,000. The final count of the indictment, engaging in monetary transactions in property derived from specified unlawful activity, has a potential penalty of 10 years and a fine of $250,000.
Shamo was arrested on a federal complaint filed in November 2016 and remains in custody. Crandall was arrested in Hawaii on a federal complaint earlier this month. A summons will be issued to Tonge, Bustin, Noble and Gygi for initial appearances in federal court.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Vernon Stejskal and Special Assistant U.S. Attorney Michael Gadd are prosecuting the case. Special agents of Homeland Security Investigations, the DEA, IRS Criminal Investigation, FDA Office of Criminal Investigations, and U.S. Postal Inspectors are investigating the case.