SALT LAKE CITY – All eight of the co-defendants in the case against Aaron Michael Shamo have been sentenced after a series of sentencing hearings took place this week in a Utah federal court. Seven co-defendants were sentenced throughout the week, including Jonathon “Luke” Paz, Drew Wilson Crandall, Alexandrya Marie Tonge, Katherine Lauren Anne Bustin, Mario Anthony Noble, Sean Michael Gygi, and Ana “Gabby” Noriega, while Christopher Sean Kenny was sentenced last month in a separate hearing. All defendants previously plead guilty to charges related to their involvement in Shamo’s multi-million dollar nationwide dark net drug trafficking organization that distributed more than a half million counterfeit pills throughout the country.
During a trial in federal court in August of 2019, a jury found Shamo guilty of organizing and directing a drug trafficking organization that imported fentanyl and alprazolam from China and used the drugs to manufacture fake oxycodone pills made with fentanyl and counterfeit Xanax tablets. The evidence at trial showed that more than 90 of Shamo’s customers died of drug overdoses. However, the total number of victims could not be calculated since Shamo sold many of his fentanyl laced fake oxycodone pills in bulk to redistributors and their customers could not always be located by investigators. Shamo was sentenced to life in prison by U.S. District Court Judge Dale A. Kimball in October of 2020.
The sentences handed down in federal court for Shamo’s co-defendants are as follows:
Jonathon “Luke” Paz, 33, now of Fort Walton Beach, Florida, was sentenced to 60 months in federal prison for his role in helping to run the dark web drug distribution empire founded by Aaron Shamo. Paz was convicted of conspiracy to manufacture a controlled substance containing fentanyl, two counts of knowingly adulterating drugs while holding them for sale, and conspiracy to commit money laundering. In the plea agreement, Paz admitted to operating pill presses for Aaron Shamo and pressing counterfeit Xanax containing alprazolam and counterfeit oxycodone pills containing fentanyl. Paz admitted that he developed the process and recipe to create the counterfeit fentanyl-laced oxycodone pills, and that he pressed almost 500,000 of these counterfeit pills. Paz turned over $800,000 in U.S. currency and 32.8 bitcoins to federal investigators upon his arrest that were proceeds from his involvement in the drug distribution with Shamo.
Drew Wilson Crandall, 35, of Draper, was sentenced to 54 months in federal prison for his role in helping to run the dark web drug distribution empire founded by Aaron Shamo. Crandall was convicted of conspiracy to distribute fentanyl, conspiracy to distribute alprazolam, and conspiracy to commit money laundering. In the plea agreement, Crandall admitted that he and Aaron Shamo imported and distributed controlled substances in Utah and around the country using the Pharma-Master dark web site developed by Shamo. Crandall also admitted that he helped Shamo mix the illegal narcotics in mason jars and used pill presses to turn the mixture into pill form. After having his own misgivings about the scheme, Crandall sold his stake in the company to Shamo for $40,000 and moved to New Zealand in November of 2015, but was later lured back into the scheme by Shamo and continued to work in customer service and handled complaints and inquiries from Shamo’s customers. Crandall was arrested in 2017 by federal law enforcement when he returned to Hawaii to get married to his fiancé.
Alexandrya Marie Tonge 29, of South Jordan, was sentenced to 36 months in federal prison for her role in Shamo’s drug trafficking network. Tonge was convicted of conspiracy to distribute fentanyl, conspiracy to distribute alprazolam, possession of fentanyl with the intent to distribute, using the U.S. mail to commit drug trafficking, and conspiracy to commit money laundering. In the plea agreement, Tonge admitted to being paid to ship and receive packages containing illegal narcotics on behalf of Aaron Shamo and Drew Crandall, and to using their bitcoin wallets to pay for expenses related to the drug trafficking organization.
Katherine Lauren Anne Bustin, 31, of South Jordan, was sentenced to 36 months in federal prison for her role in Shamo’s dark web drug trafficking network. Bustin was convicted of conspiracy to distribute fentanyl, conspiracy to distribute alprazolam, possession of fentanyl with the intent to distribute, using the U.S. mail to commit drug trafficking, and conspiracy to commit money laundering. In the plea agreement, Ms. Tonge admitted to being paid to ship and receive packages containing illegal narcotics on behalf of Aaron Shamo and Drew Crandall, and to using their bitcoin wallets to pay for expenses related to the drug trafficking organization. Bustin also admitted that Shamo paid her and Tonge $7,000 per month to package thousands of shipments of narcotics to Shamo’s customers, including placing the correct number of pills in the customers’ orders and writing false return addresses on the packages.
Mario Anthony Noble, 32, of Midvale, was sentenced to 30 months in federal prison for his role in Shamo’s dark web drug trafficking network. Noble was convicted of conspiracy to distribute fentanyl and conspiracy to distribute alprazolam. In his plea agreement, Noble admitted to being recruited by Shamo to be the “backbone” of Shamo’s dark web store and to manage customer service along with processing orders of various controlled substances. These controlled substances included alprazolam tablets and pills marked like oxycodone, but which contained fentanyl. Noble admitted that when he worked for Shamo, part of his daily duties included pulling together a list of customers, their mailing addresses, and the types and quantities of drugs they ordered. Once he created these lists, he would send them in an encrypted form, through an email account Aaron Shamo created, to co-conspirators who were responsible for packaging the orders and affixing mailing labels and postage. Noble admitted that he processed thousands of tablets containing alprazolam and pills containing fentanyl.
Sean Michael Gygi, 31 of Midvale, was sentenced to 24 months in federal prison for his role in Shamo’s dark web drug trafficking network. Gygi was convicted of conspiracy to distribute fentanyl, conspiracy to distribute alprazolam, importing fentanyl into the United States, and using the U.S. mail to commit drug trafficking. In his plea agreement, Gygi admitted to accepting shipments of illegal narcotics from China at his home on behalf of Aaron Shamo. Gygi also admitted that he also served as a runner for Shamo and picked up packages from co-defendants Tonge and Bustin five nights a week and delivered them to multiple post offices around the Salt Lake Valley to avoid detection.
Ana “Gabby” Noriega, 30, of West Jordan, was sentenced to 36 months of probation for her role in assisting Aaron Shamo’s drug trafficking operation. Noriega was convicted of conspiracy to commit money laundering, and in her plea agreement, admitted to working for Shamo for six months in 2016 in a role that was equivalent to an Executive Assistant. Noriega admitted that she bought supplies and other items for Shamo to use in furtherance of his drug trafficking operation and that she used money to purchase items that she knew was obtained from the sale of illegal narcotics.
Christopher Sean Kenny, 46, of Midvale, was sentenced to 120 months of imprisonment in June of 2021. Kenny was convicted of conspiracy to distribute fentanyl and engaging in money laundering. In the plea agreement, Kenny admitted that he worked as a middleman for Aaron Shamo and helped Shamo sale fentanyl laced oxycodone pills to other drug dealers in Utah, who would then sell Shamo’s pills to their customers. Kenny admitted that he was paid approximately one dollar per pill for this service and that he distributed approximately 140,000 pills. Kenny then bought a Ford F150 in August of 2016 using cash that he obtained from selling narcotics for Shamo.
“Aaron Shamo’s life sentence, and the sentences imposed on his co-defendants, send a clear message to anyone involved in the distribution of illegal narcotics. Law enforcement will catch you, and you will be punished for your role in the death and destruction that you cause in our communities,” said Acting United States Attorney Andrea Martinez. “As the opioid epidemic continues to take its destructive toll, we will remain vigilant and continue to aggressively prosecute those who violate the controlled substance laws of the United States. I send my deepest condolences to the families of our victims. We know you will never be made whole, but we hope that this will provide some measure of closure and allow you to heal.”
“There is no way to overstate the deadly severity of the crimes these defendants committed. They assisted one of the most prolific opioid dealers this state has ever encountered, and they are complicit in the destructive and too often-fatal consequences that resulted,” said Utah Attorney General Sean D. Reyes. “Regardless of the length of their sentence, they must live with the fact that they profited from crimes that ruined countless lives. I would like to express my sincere condolences to the families around the world who lost loved ones and whose lives were devasted by these crimes. I am grateful to the fine DEA agents and prosecutors of the DEA, the U.S. Attorney’s Office, and the Utah AG Office in this case. I also appreciate Judge Kimball’s careful handling and thoughtful decisions in this case.”
“The amount of Fentanyl distributed throughout the U.S. as a result of the operations these criminals supported devastated communities throughout the country,” said Steven Cagen Special Agent in Charge, Homeland Security Investigations Denver. “We will continue to investigate those that put personal profits above the lives of people in their communities and bring deadly drugs into the U.S. for distribution. Justice was served and we’re gratified these co-conspirators will be behind bars for the foreseeable future.”
“The dismantlement of this organization, which was responsible for multiple overdose related deaths, highlights the success of cooperative efforts between law enforcement agencies within the state of Utah,” said Michael J. Tinkler, Utah DEA Assistant Special Agent in Charge.
“It’s another example of the strength of our partnerships and unified approach in confronting criminal organizations targeting our communities.”
“The opioid crisis is still with us and continues to expand. Those who contribute to the breadth and depth of this crisis carry the burden of the devastation they impose on families and communities across the nation,” said Special Agent in Charge Charles L. Grinstead, FDA Office of Criminal Investigations Kansas City Field Office. “We will continue to investigate and bring to justice those who facilitate illicit access to opioids.”
“Mr. Shamo and his associates put at risk countless individuals addicted to opioids, through the sale of dangerous counterfeit fentanyl laced pills. This drug empire affected the entire nation, and today marks a final step in justice for those who caused this great tragedy for so many,” said IRS Criminal Investigation Special Agent in Charge, Albert Childress. “We will continue to work together with our law-enforcement partners to dismantle criminal enterprises like this, who intend to financially profit from the exploitation and suffering of the American people.”
“Battling and keeping illegal narcotics – especially synthetic opioids – out of the U.S. Mail is one of the highest priorities of the U.S. Postal Inspection Service,” said Utah Postal Inspection Service Team Leader Jared Bingham. “In today’s world of Dark Web and cyber crimes, drug dealers don’t always fit the stereotypical image of years past where the danger and effect of their crimes was confined to local jurisdictions. The Dark Web allowed the defendants in this case to operate their criminal organization from the safety and comfort of their own homes. However, the danger and lethal effects of their drug dealing enterprise was not limited to individual cities and towns. Rather, it touched virtually every corner of our nation, and it’s wake of death and pain is just as wide. In cases like this, it is important that justice not only be served, but that it send the right message to would be Dark Web criminals. The Postal Inspection Service is grateful to the U.S. Attorney’s Office and our federal law enforcement partners for their diligence in investigating and prosecuting this important case.”
Assistant U.S. Attorneys and Special Assistant U.S. Attorney’s from the Utah Attorney General’s Office prosecuted the cases. Special Agents from the DEA’s Metro Narcotics Task Force, Homeland Security Investigations, IRS Criminal Investigations, Food and Drug Administrations Office of Criminal Investigations, and Inspectors from the United States Postal Inspection Service conducted the investigation.