"These indictments reflect the commitment of the DEA and our federal law enforcement partners in dismantling and destroying these types of unprincipled Internet pharmacies," said Harry S. Sommers, Special Agent in Charge of the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) St. Louis Division.
Acting Special Agent in Charge, Kathleen Martin-Weis of Food and Drug Administration's (FDA) Office of Criminal Investigations observed that "When consumers purchase drugs online from unscrupulous Internet pharmacies, they not only put their health at risk but subject themselves to extortion and compromise their personal financial information.”
The 11 defendants are charged with participating in a scheme to defraud victims by means of materially false and fraudulent pretenses, representations, and promises. After selling the drugs to the victims, members of the criminal organization then posed as agents of the United States government, told victims that they were under investigation, and threatened their arrest unless they made payments via wire transfer to individuals in the Dominican Republic.
This investigation involved the collaborative investigative efforts of the DEA, FDA and Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), and encompassed victims located across the United States who in most cases had previously purchased medication over the Internet or by telephone without a valid prescription. To date, investigators have received over 1,000 complaints from victims who paid hundreds of thousands of dollars in "fines" after they were threatened by the impersonators (impostors). The extortion amounts requested generally ranged between $2,500 to $25,000 and often the extortionists called back after receiving payment to seek more money. In this case, payments were made in increments between $200 and $6,800.
The indictment focused in particular on a victim who resides in the Eastern District of Missouri and who paid over $85,000 to the individuals indicted. Persons involved in the scheme initially threatened to arrest the victim for illegally purchasing the weight loss medication phenteimine unless the victim agreed to pay a fine. These same persons later informed the victim that he/she could join a lawsuit against the Dominican company that had sold him/her the medication and receive a settlement by paying the taxes on the "settlement" in advance.
If convicted, those indicted could be sentenced to a maximum penalty of 20 years in prison and/or fines up to $250,000 for each count of wire fraud and a maximum penalty of five years in prison and/or fines up to $250,000 for conspiracy. In determining the actual sentences, a judge is required to consider the U.S. Sentencing Guidelines, which provide recommended sentencing ranges.
As is always the case, charges set forth in an indictment are merely accusations and do not constitute proof of guilt. Every defendant is presumed to be innocent unless and until proven guilty.