Leader of dark-web opioid drug ring gets life sentence

A man in a protective suit exits a residence where local and federal law enforcement agencies responded to a drug bust in Cottonwood Heights, Utah, on Nov. 22, 2016. In the raid on Aaron Shamo’s home in the upscale suburb, agents found a still-running pill press, thousands of pills and more than $1 million in cash, according to court documents.

SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — A suburban millennial convicted of becoming an online drug kingpin was sent to prison for life Thursday, but not before he was confronted by a grieving mother.

Tova Keblish said her son thought he was buying painkillers online to cope with his agony after leg surgery. Instead, authorities say, the pills were fakes pressed in the suburban Salt Lake City basement where Aaron Shamo built a multimillion-dollar drug ring with little more than a computer and some friends. The pills contained the opioid fentanyl, a drug purchased from China that authorities say can be deadly with just a few flakes.

Gavin Keblish, of Long Island, New York, died soon after buying them, leaving his family to mourn, she testified.

Last August, Shamo, 30, was convicted in federal court of shipping hundreds of thousands of fake prescription drugs across the country, and found guilty of a dozen federal counts, including one for running a criminal enterprise that carries a mandatory life sentence in prison.

A clean-cut millennial who grew up in a family that belonged to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Shamo said the operation started small but quickly grew out of control.

Shamo pumped himself up with notes like “I am awesome” as he expanded the operation, according to trial evidence. He operated through a storefront called Pharma-Master on the dark web — a wild, unregulated layer of the internet reached through a special browser.

At times he even convinced himself he was helping people who said they couldn’t get painkillers prescribed, and claims he “didn’t know the dangers of what we were doing.”

Authorities have said the pills were linked to dozens of overdose deaths, though charges were only filed in one and the jury deadlocked on that count. Still, the families of those who overdosed watched the case closely. Keblish’s family flew cross-country to watch the trial.

Several of his friends are expected to get lighter sentences after striking plea deals and testifying against him.

Copyright 2020 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission.

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