URBANA — A man who produced in his Champaign home what a prosecutor conservatively estimated at 4.3 million counterfeit anti-anxiety pills that he sold and distributed using the U.S. mail is headed to prison for 13 years.
The sentence that U.S. District Court Judge Michael Mihm imposed Monday on Stephan Caamano, 24, split the difference between the 17½ years sought by the government and the 10 years that his attorney wanted.
Caamano pleaded guilty in April to several federal charges stemming from a booming fake Xanax production scheme that operated between March 2017 and May 2018 out of a home he owned in the 1500 block of Glenshire Drive in an upscale southwest Champaign subdivision.
Those charges included distribution of a controlled substance, money laundering and engaging in monetary transactions in property derived from unlawful activity.
An apologetic Caamano told the judge he was “sincerely ashamed” of his actions, having had more than 19 months in custody to think about them.
That involved importing Alprazolam — the active ingredient in the trademarked Xanax — from China and using a pill press in his garage to make tablets that looked just like and were very close in chemistry to the Pfizer-produced product. He then mailed the packages through the U.S. mail to customers, sometimes with as many as 1,000 pills in an order. One room in the house was devoted to packaging, and another to the mailing. His mailings from area drop boxes were so frequent and large that the mail carrier who worked the route registered a formal complaint with supervisors.
“It was for selfish financial reasons,” Caamano said of his business, which Assistant U.S. Attorney Rachel Ritzer said was apparently a one-man show, in spite of Mihm’s skepticism.
“Given how pertinent the opioid crisis is, I should have been more aware of how much pain and suffering I was causing,” said the former University of Illinois doctoral student with absolutely no prior criminal contacts.
A presentence investigation, cited by the judge and defense attorney Audrey Thompson of Urbana, said Caamano was born in New York City. A product of parents from South Korea who split up when he was young, Caamano stayed in New York with his father, who later remarried, but visited his mother in South Korea.
He was admitted to the U.S. Naval Academy but unhappy with the military, stayed only a year then transferred to the University of California at Berkeley where he finished his undergraduate degree in mathematics.
He was accepted into a doctoral program in mathematics at the UI in Urbana, but attended only one semester. His interest waning and his grades dropping, he left the UI and turned his attention full-time to his illegal trade, which first came to the attention of law enforcement in 2016 when authorities became aware he was buying pill presses from China.
Thompson said Caamano had a history of depression and anxiety issues since childhood, in part from living in New York during the Sept. 11, 2001, attack on the twin towers that killed thousands. He used Xanax himself, he said.
She and Ritzer agreed that a conservative estimate of the number of pills Caamano made was 4,333,333. At a wholesale cost of slightly over $10 per pill, that put the value of his sales at $44.76 million, the judge said.
Mihm asked Ritzer several questions related to where the money was that Caamano made from selling the drugs on the dark web.
Ritzer and Thompson both said that Caamano told lawyers he was unable to access the accounts in which the cryptocurrency was deposited because the passwords had expired while he was in custody and he was unable to renew them.
“I have trouble believing that,” said Mihm. “It’s hard for me to imagine that having gone to all this trouble to amass that wealth, that he would let it go...”
In asking for the 17 1 / 2 years — the maximum he could have received was 20 — Ritzer said Caamano wanted “the power” that went with being a huge anonymous seller of the fake Xanax on the dark web.
“The defendant put thousands of people at risk,” she said.
Thompson noted he had a traumatic upbringing and was abused by his step-parents and a boyfriend. She said he felt “isolated” when he moved to the UI and suffered an “implosion” that was hard to explain.
“It began with his use to manage his own depression and anxiety then spiraled from there,” Thompson said.
The veteran Mihm marveled at the scope and quality of Caamano’s work.
“There is no way to describe this other than something that was extremely serious. It involved a tremendous amount of thought and planning, very brilliant planning,” Mihm said.
The judge planned to enter a forfeiture order of about $2.1 million in money and property that Caamano will have to give the government. That includes some of his gross profits, his Glenshire house, a Toyota Rav 4, and the contents of a bank account.
The judge did not order restitution.