Utah: Three Enter Guilty Pleas in the PharmaMaster Case
Three people pleaded guilty to helping the now-infamous darknet vendor “Pharma-Master” distribute fentanyl and alprazolam from his Cottonwood Heights homes. While the three individuals played much less important roles than the two leaders of the Utah-based drug trafficking operation, federal prosecutors pursued the indictment just the same.
The first two now-convicted drug traffickers were first named in the first superseding indictment that included many of the alleged co-conspirators that helped the primary suspects—Aaron Shamo and Drew Crandall—run their multi-million dollar darknet drug operation. Then-roommates Alexandrya Marie Tonge, 26, and Katherine Lauren Anne Bustin, 28, had quickly joined Shamo and Crandall after learning how much money the duo offered simply to receive packages the duo routinely received from China.
At first, although they knew the packages had contained illegal substances of some sort, they remained somewhat naive as to what their new employers needed with the packages. The two women later discovered that many of the packages had contained alprazolam powder, fentanyl powder, or binders used to create pills. Shamo and Crandall, under the Pharma-Master (or PharmaMaster) identity, sold pressed xanax and fentanyl pills they had produced using industrial pill presses the police later discovered in Shamo’s Cottonwood Heights home.
Tonge and Bustin admitted conspiracy to distribute fentanyl; conspiracy to distribute alprazolam; conspiracy to commit money laundering; possession with intent to distribute fentanyl; and use of the US Postal Service in furtherance of a drug crime. The duo described preparing thousands of packages of drugs for shipment every month in exchange for $7,000. The duo had started with a much less lucrative role in the conspiracy but eventually took on increasingly criminal positions. Shamo’s operation had expanded so quickly that he needed all the help he could get.
At the time of his arrest, the police found more than 500,000 pressed pills in the man’s basement and garbage bags stuffed with more than $1 million in cash. Shamo had allegedly produced and shipped thousands of pills every month. In less than one year, he had earned more than $2.8 million through darknet drug sales (gross, most likely, but bulk fentanyl and alprazolam cost almost nothing when purchased in bulk from international suppliers).
The third conspirator who pleaded guilty at the recent hearing in the Utah federal court was Sean Michael Gygi, 28. Gygi played an even smaller role than Tonge and Bustin. Accusing to his plea agreement, Gygi picked up packages of drugs that the two women had prepared and then dropped the packages off at post offices throughout the region. He still faced serious charges, though. In his plea, he admitted conspiracy to distribute fentanyl; conspiracy to distribute alprazolam; the use of the US Postal Service in furtherance of a drug crime; and to aiding and abetting the importation of controlled substances.
All three co-conspirators will be sentenced at an unknown date. Shamo’s jury trial will take place on August 20 and will take up to four weeks.