In December, a federal judge signed an order that allowed the U.S. government to sell bitcoin seized in an investigation into a fentanyl trafficking ring in Utah. Even though the defendants and original owners of the assets still faced charges in court, the U.S. Attorney’s Office moved to sell the digital currency and vehicles prior to any sentencing, citing the volatility of bitcoin. All six defendants, through their legal representation, agreed to the Attorney’s Office proposal.
The assets belonged to Aaron Shamo and his five co-conspirators who, according to a November 2016 Criminal Complaint, produced and distributed counterfeit Oxycodone pills using fentanyl from China. Shamo and his primary accomplice, Drew Wilson Crandall, sold the fake oxycodone pills on the darknet under the name “Pharma-master,” investigators said.
At the time of Shamo’s arrest, authorities wrote that the seized bitcoin had reached roughly $500,000 in value. According to the Attorney’s Office in Utah, the bitcoin stash’s value skyrocketed to more than $8.5 million. The agreement also allowed the Attorney’s Office to sell the seized vehicles—a 2011 Ford F-350 and a BMW 135i. Federal prosecutors wrote that the cost of storing both vehicles contributed to the request. Storage costs amounted to $485 every month. Somehow.
Spokeswoman Melodie Rydalch said that selling seized bitcoin was a first for federal prosecutors in Utah.
The court order specified that the government will use the proceeds from the cryptocurrency and vehicle sales to cover the cost of the sales and unpaid storage fees. Any remaining funds (out of $8.5 million) will sit until the time comes for the forfeiture proceedings. The court will require the defendants to pay the government an amount equal to (or greater than) the final U.S. dollar value of the bitcoin and other assets seized during the arrest. During the raid at Shamo’s Cottonwood Heights home and a raid at a second location used as a stash spot, found more than $1.2 million in cash, pill presses, and several hundred thousand counterfeit oxycodone and alprazolam pills.
Grand jury indictments accused Shamo, Crandall, and the other co-conspirators of distributing more than 12,000 grams of controlled substances, mostly consisting of synthetic opioids and alprazolam. Shamo has pleaded not guilty to running a criminal enterprise, conspiracy to distribute a controlled substance, possession of fentanyl, and possession of fentanyl with intent to distribute. Recently, a judge ruled that Shamo’s partner, Crandall, posed too much of a flight risk for a pre-trial release.