Tip Leads to Arrests in Illegal On-Line Pharmacy Scheme
JAN 16 -- SAN FRANCISCO – Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) Special Agent in Charge Javier F. Pena and United States Attorney Kevin V. Ryan announced that DEA Special Agents arrested three executives of United Care Pharmacy (UCP) and a UCP pharmacist on charges of illegally selling and distributing addictive drugs, including the weight loss drug, phentermine, without requiring customers to obtain an appropriate prescription. The following individuals were all charged with conspiracy to distribute controlled substances:
Russo and Leborgne were additionally charged with seven counts of money laundering. Russo, Leborgne, and David John were charged with one count of conspiracy to commit money laundering,
“These arrests would not have taken place if it had not been for a responsible citizen who did the right thing by calling a local DEA office to inform us of this activity. Those who operate rogue internet pharmacies now have a new sworn enemy - their own customers,” stated DEA Special Agent in Charge Javier F. Pena. “I encourage all citizens who know of illegal pharmacies to call 1-877-RX-Abuse or go to www.deadiversion.usdoj.gov and fill out a form to report them. With your help, DEA can put drug dealers out of business one by one.”
United States Attorney Kevin V. Ryan said, “Phentermine is a controlled substance that can be dangerous to those using it without the proper instruction and supervision of a physician. The conduct alleged here puts the health and safety of the public at risk.”
In addition to the arrests, law enforcement agents conducted three searches of various residences of several of the defendants, and three other related searches. The arrests and searches came as a result of an eighteen month investigation by the Drug Enforcement Administration. The indictment was unsealed today when the first defendant in the matter was arrested.
The indictment alleges that the four defendants were participating in a scheme where they illegally distributed controlled substances and used the proceeds to continue promoting their illegal business. According to the indictment, UCP used a pharmacy network on the Internet to distribute and dispense controlled substances without requiring the customers to receive a face-to-face meeting or consultation with a physician before receiving the controlled substances. UCP simply required customers to fill out an online questionnaire which allegedly received little to no consideration by a physician before being approved. The American Medical Association and the Federation of State Medical Boards of the United States have both determined that the lack of a face-to-face meeting with a physician before a patient is given a controlled substance poses an immediate threat to public health and safety. The pharmacy controlled by the defendants allegedly used this scheme to send multiple shipments of phentermine, a controlled substance used for weight loss, to the Northern District of California.
Russo and Leborgne were arrested this morning in Wilmington, North Carolina, and will make their initial appearances tomorrow in the Eastern District of North Carolina. Tuite was arrested in the Myrtle Beach area in South Carolina and will make an initial appearance in the District of South Carolina. David John will appear today at 4 p.m. Central time in the Middle District of Tennessee. The next scheduled appearance for the four defendants in San Jose, Calif., has yet to be before Magistrate Judge Howard R. Lloyd.
The maximum statutory penalty for conspiracy to distribute controlled substances, in violation of Title 21 United States Code (U.S.C.), Section 846, is a term of imprisonment of three years, a $250,000 fine, a one year term of supervised release and a $100 special assessment. The maximum statutory penalty for the money laundering offences, in violation of 18 U.S.C. Sections 1956(h) and 1956(a)(1)(A)(i), is a term of imprisonment of 20 years, a $500,000 fine or twice the value of property involved, three years supervised release, and a $100 special assessment. However, any sentence following conviction would be imposed by the court after consideration of the U.S. Sentencing Guidelines and the federal statute governing the imposition of a sentence, 18 U.S.C. ' 3553.
An indictment contains only allegations against an individual and, as with all defendants, Messrs. Russo, Leborgne, John, and Tuite must be presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty.