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A Cottonwood Heights man accused of using a dangerous synthetic opioid to counterfeit pain pills was running one of his three pill presses at the time of his Nov. 22 arrest, federal prosecutors say.
On Monday, U.S. Magistrate Judge Paul Warner ordered continued detainment of Aaron Shamo, 26, who faces up to 20 years in prison and a $1 million fine for possession with intent to distribute millions of dollars worth of knockoff prescription drugs.
The prosecution painted Shamo as "a narcotics trafficker with guns in his stash house," and Warner agreed: "The bottom line is that I find Mr. Shamo presents a danger to the community."
The complaint against Shamo says nearly 100,000 pills were found in a South Jordan stash house that are thought to contain fentanyl and alprazolam powders ordered from China. It may be weeks before the results of drug tests are known.
Prosecutors presented additional details of their findings at Monday's detention hearing. Assistant U.S. Attorney Stewart Young said officers found one press in operation at Shamo's Cottonwood Heights home, another press at the South Jordan stash house, and another still in the box, indicating "Mr. Shamo was planning on expanding the operations."
Young said officers seized nearly $1.3 million in cash at Shamo's house, and that there may be "a lot more" in a hard-to-trace internet currency known as bitcoin. Officers also found five rifles and a handgun at the stash house, Young said.
Federal Public Defender Adam Bridge said Shamo denies ownership of anything found in the South Jordan house and took issue with a pretrial report that said his client has a history of alcohol and drug abuse. Shamo was convicted for driving under the influence of alcohol in January but has not used illegal drugs since attending the Cross Creek Programs reform school in southern Utah eight years ago, Bridge said.
Young said it was no comfort to hear Shamo had abstained from using drugs. Fentanyl is potent many times more so than street-level heroin and Young said that if Shamo didn't test the drugs himself, he had no way of gauging the accuracy of doses.
Officials say a nationwide epidemic of overdoses linked to fentanyl pills has yet to be seen in Utah. But prosecutors say Shamo sent pills around the country and that the government is still investigating whether any of his pills are tied to overdoses.
Prosecutors previously said that Shamo paid others to accept shipments from China and that one package law enforcement intercepted contained 120 grams of fentanyl. Authorities say such drugs can be imported at a fraction of their street-level worth, and thousands of pills per hour can be made using presses that cost about $1,000.
Bridge argued unsuccessfully that, given that officers seized so much of Shamo's property, "there's absolutely no way that this guy could go out and resume the activities that the government is concerned about."
Shamo's Cottonwood Heights residence, he added, was burglarized after police left the door open following the Nov. 22 raid.
Shamo is scheduled to appear Dec. 7, by which time a grand jury indictment may have added charges.