On Wednesday investigators from five federal law enforcement agencies announced indictments of several people in an opioid distribution ring operating out of the Salt Lake Valley.
Federal prosecutors charged six people involved in making counterfeit pills and distributing fentanyl, a potent synthetic opioid. The operation was discovered last November when investigators found a network involving locations in Cottonwood Heights, South Jordan, and Midvale.
John Huber is a United States Attorney working on the case.
"Even though it happened in a basement in Cottonwood Heights, the far-reaching impact and effect, this is one of the biggest we’ve seen nationally thus far," Huber said.
Investigators referred to the operation as the "Shamo distribution network" after the primary defendant, Aaron Shamo. In it, illicit fentanyl from China was being combined with oxycodone and pressed into tablets. Those tablets were then sold online through a part of the internet that is difficult to track known as the "dark web". Investigators estimate nearly 500,000 counterfeit pills were produced.
Brian Besser is the Drug Enforcement Administration's District Agent in Charge for the State of Utah.
"Shamo’s customer base though, was extremely comprehensive and widespread, touching every corner of the United States; from here in Utah," Besser said.
Fentanyl is at least 50 times more potent than morphine and 30 times more potent than heroin. Overdose rates for the drug have been rising in Utah for the past several years.
The other agencies involved in the indictment are the IRS, FDA, Homeland Security Investigations, and the U.S. Postal Inspection Service. According to U.S. Attorney Huber, if convicted, the lead defendant faces a mandatory minimum life sentence in federal prison.