Recreational Marijuana Sales Begin in Illinois as Governor Pardons Over 11,000 Residents
Licensed dispensaries in Illinois started to sell recreational marijuana on New Year's Day when the Illinois Cannabis Regulation and Tax Act took effect.
On August 30, a federal jury in Salt Lake City convicted former Eagle Scout Aaron Shamo of organizing and managing a conspiracy to sell counterfeit oxycodone and Xanax laced with fentanyl on the Dark Web. A trial began for Shamo, aged 29, on August 12. In a thirteen-count indictment, federal prosecutors charged him with several serious crimes, including engaging in a continuing criminal enterprise, aiding and abetting the importation of a controlled substance, possessing a controlled substance with intent to distribute, manufacturing a controlled substance, drug adulteration, money laundering, and using the U.S. Postal System for drug trafficking.
The jury found Shamo guilty of twelve of the thirteen counts in the indictment. However, the jury could not agree on whether to convict Shamo of being responsible for the death of a man in California who died after overdosing on fentanyl in a false oxycodone pill.
As a result of the guilty verdict, Shamo will die in prison. Under the “super kingpin” rule, the charge of engaging in a continuing criminal enterprise carries a mandatory minimum sentence of life behind bars if the defendant led the enterprise and if it involved large-scale drug trafficking. Shamo will not be eligible for parole. His sentencing hearing will take place on December 3, and his lawyer, Greg Skordas, said that Shamo will appeal his conviction.
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In 2016, the police arrested Shamo at his home and discovered a pill press in his basement. Shamo ordered fentanyl from China and earned over $2 million creating fraudulent pills with the lethal opioid, selling them with Bitcoins on the Dark Web, and mailing them throughout the United States. Shamo admitted his involvement in the conspiracy, but he denied that he was the leader or mastermind.
During the trial, his lawyer told the jury that Shamo was not intelligent enough to organize the scheme and that he was becoming a scapegoat. The prosecutors, Skordas noted, gave lenient plea bargains to everyone else who participated in the conspiracy, including some who worked as packagers and couriers. Shamo claimed during his trial that his friend, Drew Crandell, was the person who actually had the idea of selling counterfeit painkillers. Crandell pleaded guilty to federal charges and provided testimony against Shamo.
When Shamo himself had an opportunity to testify at his trial, he claimed that he used to think he was helping people in pain by sending them fentanyl. He also said that he had not known how dangerous and addictive fentanyl is. However, Shamo now says he understands that what he did was “really stupid” and “really shameful, too,” and that the conspiracy grew too large for him to control or leave. “It went from a hobby to something where my eyes were a little too big and I was like, this isn’t what I expected at all.” After spending years in jail, Shamo witnessed the terrible effects that addictive drugs unleash on ordinary people. “You don’t see the ripple that it has on all these people and their families. I got to see the struggle and it’s just brutal.”
Despite Shamo’s contrition, prosecutor Vernon Stejskal called Shamo “the face of the opioid epidemic,” someone who “poured fuel on the flames” of an addiction and overdose crisis. “He was a profiteer,” Stejskal said in his closing statement, “callously making millions of dollars and living a life of leisure while exploiting those suffering through opioid addiction.” The prosecution convinced the jurors that Shamo was the leader of the conspiracy since he was the person who set up a storefront on the Dark Web, ordered the fentanyl, kept contacts in China, built a network of collaborators, and even sent more pills to customers who told him that his products were causing them pain, rather than curing it.
The comprehensive investigation into the Aaron Shamo counterfeit pill manufacturing network shows how dangerous these enterprises are. The subsequent conviction of Mr. Shamo proves that those who operate with blatant disregard for public safety will bear the full weight of the law and be held accountable for their crimes.
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