Former student handed down life sentence in high-profile drug case

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A former UVU student from Cottonwood Heights was convicted of selling illegal drugs online and sentenced to life in prison on Thursday, Oct. 15. 

Aaron Shamo, 30, was arrested in 2016 for selling fake oxycodone and Xanax laced with fentanyl through the dark web, allegedly making millions of dollars.

Shamo was found guilty of 12 drug and laundering related charges. The jury was unable to reach a verdict on the charges brought against him for distribution of a controlled substance. Shamo’s actions resulted in at least one death, though authorities have stated that dozens of deaths can be attributed to his counterfeit drugs. 

It was in 2009, while Shamo was attending Utah Valley University that he discovered bitcoin, a cryptocurrency that he later used to fund his drug business. According to his mother Becky Shamo, he didn’t attend class much and never finished a degree. 

Shamo reportedly viewed himself as a “white collar drug dealer,” who helped people find relief from their chronic pain. 

“It seemed like a good idea, it was a win-win situation,” Shamo testified. 

Though Shamo viewed it as a win-win, this was not the case for Gavin Keblish, one of Shamo’s many customers. Keblish, hoping to receive relief from his post surgery leg pain, purchased some pills from Shamo. Keblish died soon after purchasing them due to a fentanyl overdose.

His mother Tova Keblish felt that her son was denied his right to live and that Shamo did not consider the negative consequences of his behavior. 

“Your customers were not just numbers, not just emails. There were people behind them,” Keblish said. 

The defense team never denied that Shamo had sold illegal drugs, but did argue that Shamo couldn’t be a “drug ring king” due to his ADHD, making a life sentence too harsh of a punishment.

“The defendant’s history and characteristics support the imposition of a life sentence,” the prosecutors wrote. “The defendant dedicated himself to building his drug trafficking empire and becoming rich. The defendant also knew about the acute dangers of fentanyl but continued to produce fentanyl-laced fake oxycodone pills at an ever-increasing rate prior to his arrest”. 

Utah Attorney General Sean Reyes feels that the true extent of harm caused by Shamo’s drug operation may never be known. 

“Shamo’s conviction today is a significant victory in the ongoing war on illegal opioids in our state and nation,” Reyes said.

More information on opioid use and overdose prevention can be found here.