The Pharma-Master case keeps getting larger, as the pile of evidence keeps stacking in favor of the prosecution, and the number of superseding indictments keeps climbing. In late April, charges filed in U.S. District Court accused another Utah man of working with Aaron Michael Shamo aka Pharma-Master. According to the charges, Jonathan Luke Paz helped the “nation’s largest fentanyl trafficking ring” manufacture fake oxycodone pills.
Authorities accused Paz of working with Shamo as early as February 2016. They charged him with one count of conspiracy to manufacture fentanyl, two counts of knowing and intentional adulteration of drugs while held for sale, and one count of money laundering. All counts stemmed from the activities that began February 2016. However, authorities split the intentional adulteration charges for several reasons. The more charges thrown at a suspect, the more likely one would stick. Deals can easily be made and prosecution rates can stay as high as they currently are. More importantly, though, they charged him with the first adulteration charge for pressing fake “A 215” oxycodone pills and the second adulteration charge for pressing “M 30” oxycodone pills.
Pharma-Master advertised the pills as oxycodone pills, but instead of oxycodone, the pills contained various doses of fentanyl. The “A 215” pills, in their real form, came from the pharmaceutical company Actavis. The genuine “M 30” pills came from Mallinckrodt Pharmaceuticals. Both pills contained 30mg of oxycodone. Many pill presses control the dose of substance per pill. Killing customers is rarely the reason drug dealers start selling drugs in the first place. Some drugs, alprazolam for example, are easy to dose. Alprazolam powder can be safely weighed and added to the batches of pills. Doses of alprazolam—unlike some stronger benzos and certainly unlike fentanyl—can be handled safely.
And even though taking too much of any given benzodiazepine results in misadventures that often end in jail, the extra 0.5mg itself would not likely kill a person. Fentanyl, on the other hand, is a more difficult drug to measure; active doses can accidentally be inhaled or absorbed and the active doses weigh far less. One needs to properly queue batches of pills with ‘hotspots’ in them. Add that to the already dangerous fake oxycodone pills and the result is a high risk of fatal overdoses. In the stories covered by DeepDotWeb, the majority of the fentanyl vendor busts share one thing in common – an overdose. And usually at least one of the overdoses proved to be fatal unfortunately.
In the Pharma-Master case, prosecutors used evidence that indicated the the group leader, Shamo, killed customers with the counterfeit pills. While authorities have accused the men of selling drugs that killed their customers, no charges have been filed connecting the group to overdoses. Even though Pharma-Master may have killed many customers, and members of the group face life in prison, they ran a smooth operation. Their operations were so smooth, in fact, that Paz allegedly laundered 513 bitcoins. In addition to a prison sentence, prosecutors are aiming to seize $7 million in cash, a BMW, and a Ford truck.