For three weeks this summer, testimony in a Salt Lake City federal courtroom offered an unprecedented window into how fentanyl bought and sold online has transformed the global drug trade and the ease with which the drug now moves around the world, the Associated Press reports. A jury convicted a clean-cut, 29-year-old college dropout and Eagle Scout named Aaron Shamo, who made himself a millionaire by building a fentanyl trafficking empire with not much more than his computer and the help of a few friends. He now faces a mandatory life sentence on his convictions, including the charge of continuing criminal enterprise.
The case against Shamo detailed how white powder up to 100 times stronger than morphine was bought online from a laboratory in China and arrived in Utah via international mail; it was shaped into perfect-looking replicas of oxycodone tablets and resold on the internet’s black markets. Then it was routed back into the postal system in thousands of packages addressed to homes across this country awash with prescription painkiller addiction. By the time a seized package heading from China to Utah led investigators to Shamo, he had already turned fentanyl into at least 458,946 potentially poisonous pills, the government said. There are many more like him, officials say, upstart traffickers pressing pure Chinese-made fentanyl into pills in their basements and kitchens with unsophisticated equipment. In a single batch, one pill might have no fentanyl and another enough to kill a person instantly.