Aaron Shamo was a bitcoin millionaire.
The 28-year-old former Eagle Scout was an early convert to cryptocurrency, a digital form of money that exists independently of any country or central bank. He began hunting for — or "mining" — bitcoin soon after it was created in 2009, while he was still a student at Utah Valley University. He stockpiled bitcoin even as he worked at outposts of Apple and eBay in Utah over the next few years.
And when the crypto craze erupted on Wall Street last year, Shamo appeared to have placed an expert bet. The value of his holdings shot from about $767,000 to at least $10 million over the course of a year.
But Shamo was not an investor or day trader. Instead, federal authorities say he built his wealth by harnessing the dark side of digital currency — using it to fund a vast underground marketplace of illegal activity.
Shamo is accused of trafficking the deadly opioid fentanyl and financing the operation with bitcoin. Law enforcement uncovered more than 500 bitcoin after raiding his house in 2016. Shamo is now in prison awaiting trial, and prosecutors said they are investigating 28 fatal overdoses in connection with his alleged drug ring.
"They were entrepreneurs," his attorney, Greg Skordas, said of Shamo and five friends charged in the case. "They were looking for ways to make money, to do things, to be creative. They are alleged to have gotten into a very dark hole."