Six Indicted in Darknet Fentanyl Distribution Ring
On May 31, a Federal grand jury returned a superseding indictment that charged five more individuals in what authorities called the nation’s largest fentanyl trafficking ring. The original indictment charged only one man with fentanyl distribution, later discovered to be an Alphabay vendor. The Utah-based âgroupâ could press several thousand pills and sold, through the darknet, to âevery corner of the United States.â
The group began as only a partnership between two peopleâAaron Michael Shamo and Drew Wilson Crandall. Shamo, the âprincipal administrator, organizer, and supervisor,â quickly took on numerous employees as the business expanded. Authorities arrested the leader, who now faces a mandatory life sentence if convicted of âknowingly and intentionally engaging in a continuing criminal enterprise,â on a federal criminal complaint from late 2016. (Not to be confused with this Utah-based fentanyl dealer.)
Individuals named in the indictment: Aaron Michael Shamo, a 27-year-old from Utah; Alexandrya Marie Tonge, a 25-year-old from Utah; Katherine Lauren Ann Bustin, a 26-year-old from Utah; Mario Anthony Noble, a 28-year-old from Utah; Sean Michael Gygi, a 27-year-old from Utah; and finally Drew Wilson Crandall, a 30-year-old from Brisbane, Australia.
Shamo and Crandall, prior to becoming the fentanyl traffickers of the month, worked at eBay. At this point, they ordered pill presses (and/or components required to build pill presses), dice, stamps, pill binders, and dyes. They also ordered fentanyl and alprazolam from China, the indictment alleged. The press release from the Utah Attorney’s Office clarified that the men illegally ordered fentanyl and alprazolam, in contrast to some of the legal non-drug orders.
The men, before they quit their jobs in 2014, hired a co-worker: Alexandrya Marie Tonge. They additionally recruited her housemate. Tonge and her housemate, Bustin, received packages for Shamo and Crandall. They received $200 to $300 for each package.
From the 2016 Criminal Complaint:
â[Shamo] is known to have employed several individuals over the last year to accept shipments of packages from China at their residences. These individuals would deliver the packages to [Shamo] without opening them or inspecting the contents.â
In 2015, Tonge asked Shamo and Crandall if she could make more money by playing a more important role. According to court documents, Tonge and Bustin then started new positions. They prepared the pills for shipmentâor, rather, prepared the packages of pills for shipment. Court documents revealed that Crandall taught the two co-conspirators to wrap packages in mylar bags. And then to package the prepared package for shipment in regular envelopes with âregular stamps.â
After Shamo landed in custody in November 2016, Crandall fled to Australia. The other, newly indicted co-defendants were not named or arrested. Law enforcement raided two houses, both of which they believed belonged to Shamo. They found a combined total of 70,000 pills fake Oxycodone pills and $1.2 million in cash. Authorities charged Shamo with possession with intent to distribute, among lesser charges. Officers also found âmore than approximately 25,000 pills that have the appearance of Alprazolam.â
âAgents discovered a pill press in Shamoâs Cottonwood Heights home capable of manufacturing several thousand pills an hour,â officials described.
Following Shamoâs arrest, a connection to an Alphabay vendor named Pharma-Master appeared. Buyers asked why he stopped returning private messages. And one the best broke, armchair detectives noticed the dates lined up: Pharma-Masterâs last login was within one day of Shamoâs arrest. And then it became common knowledge.
At the press announcement, U.S. Attorney for the District of Utah, John Huber, revealed that they connected the defendants to Pharma-Master. He displayed a map that marked locations where the vendor’s fentanyl-laced pills went. Some of the data was obtained by seizing the outgoing mail from the co-defendants.
Four co-defendants remain freeâTonge, Bustin, Noble, and Gygi. They will receive a federal summons. Authorities in Hawaii arrested Crandall in May and Shamo has been in federal custody for some time now.
They face charges in the 15-count superseding indictment. Count 1 applies to Shamo: knowingly and intentionally engaging in a continuing criminal enterprise. Counts 2 through 9 and count 12 of the indictment include conspiracy to distribute fentanyl, conspiracy to distribute alprazolam, manufacture, and general criminal behavior linked to furthering a criminal enterprise. Counts 10 and 11 of the indictment relate to the âintentional adulteration of drugs held for sale.â And Count 13 through 15 charge defendants of money laundering through numerous methods.
Authorities are still investigating the case, trying to find evidence that links the defendants to fentanyl related overdoses.