Jury convicts leader of online counterfeit drug distribution ring

September 21, 2012

FDA, along with several other agencies, helped conduct an investigation that led to the conviction of a man who was involved in a major counterfeit drug distribution ring.

The FDA, along with several other agencies, helped conduct an investigation that led to the conviction of a man who was involved in a major counterfeit drug distribution ring.

During the investigation, more than 100,000 pills designed to resemble several medications- including Viagra, Cialis, Valium, Xanax, and Lipitor- were discovered in Francis Ortiz Gonzalez’s home in Puerto Rico, according to a U.S. Department of Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE) .ICE's Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) had conducted the search.

Further investigation revealed that Gonzalez had packaged and shipped more than 160,000 fake pills that were sold online during a 6-month period in 2009, according to the release. His case was brought to Los Angeles for trial because he had mailed numerous shipments to Southern California.

The 36-year-old man was found guilty of one count of conspiracy and seven counts of trafficking in counterfeit pharmaceuticals following a 6-day jury trial. His sentencing is scheduled for Nov. 8. He faces up to 10 years in prison.

"The burgeoning popularity of e-commerce has led to an explosion in the number of websites offering prescription drugs online," said Claude Arnold, special agent in charge for HSI Los Angeles. "But consumers who are considering purchasing pharmaceutical products over the Internet should heed that old expression 'buyer beware.' … Imposter drugs like these pose a serious threat to users who mistakenly assume these substances are safe."

Last week, FDA introduced a new hand-held device that detects counterfeit drugs. The Counterfeit Detection Device #3, or CD3, is being used in 50 FDA field laboratories, and costs $1,000, according to CNN Health.

"The battery-operated LED machine emits 10 different wavelengths of light like ultraviolet and infrared imaging and can be used on tablets and capsules, powders, and packaging," CNN reports. "The CD3 has been used to analyze nearly 100 counterfeit products including drugs like Crestor, Lipitor, Oxycontin, Viagra, Tamiflu, Singulair, Plavix, and Wellbutrin."

From fiscal year 2010 to fiscal year 2011, there was a 24% increase in the number of counterfeited and pirated products seized by HSI and U.S. Customs and Border Protection, for a total of 25,000 seizures in 2011, according to the ICE release.

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