A Canadian citizen was sentenced to four years in prison today for his role in a scheme to defraud consumers purchasing pharmaceuticals online, the Justice Department announced. Andrew J. Strempler was also ordered to pay a forfeiture of $300,000 and a fine of $25,000. A restitution hearing was set for February 26, 2013.
In October 2012, Strempler pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit mail fraud in connection with his role as owner and president of Mediplan Health Consulting Inc., a Canadian company that also operated under the name RxNorth.com. RxNorth was an Internet, mail and telephone order pharmacy, through which Strempler and others marketed and sold prescription drugs to residents of the United States.
According to court documents, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) advised Strempler in a 2001 letter that his prescription drug sales would be illegal in the United States if the drugs were not FDA approved. The FDA letter explained that the FDA approves drugs based on evidence that they are safe and effective, and that the quality of drugs from foreign sources could not be assured.
Strempler and his co-conspirators unlawfully enriched themselves by selling prescription drugs to individuals in the United States, falsely representing that RxNorth was selling safe prescription drugs in compliance with regulations in Canada, the United Kingdom and the United States. Strempler obtained the prescription drugs from various other source countries without properly ensuring the safety or authenticity of the drugs. In fact, some of the drugs sold by Strempler included counterfeit drugs.
Strempler caused prescription drugs from foreign countries to be shipped to a facility that Strempler operated in the Bahamas. Prescription orders made through RxNorth were then filled at the Bahamas facility, with labels on the vials and drug cartons stating they had been filled by RxNorth in Canada. Strempler then used indirect routes involving multiple countries to ship packages with prescription drugs from the Bahamas to individuals in the United States. Shipments mailed from the Bahamas, containing packages addressed to individuals in the Southern District of Florida, included counterfeit prescription drugs.
“Internet websites that illegally sell potentially substandard, counterfeit or otherwise unsafe pharmaceuticals, pose a real threat to consumers,” said Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General Stuart F. Delery. “The sentence handed down today serves as an effective deterrent to those who would peddle counterfeit pharmaceuticals—particularly those drugs trafficked over the Internet.”
U.S. Attorney Wifredo A. Ferrer stated, “Counterfeit prescription drugs sold through the internet pose a serious health hazard to consumers in the United States. These drugs can be adulterated, ineffective and unsafe. The U.S. Attorney’s Office is committed to assisting the FDA enforce regulations to protect American consumers from these unsafe drugs.”
“FDA’s Office of Criminal Investigations, working in concert with the United States Attorney’s Office and other foreign and domestic government agencies, will protect the public health by aggressively targeting those responsible for counterfeiting prescription drugs,” said David W. Bourne, Special Agent in Charge of the FDA Office of Criminal Investigations Miami Field Office. “This case highlights that even when complex criminal networks engage in such illegal activities on a global scale from a foreign-based location, without regard for risk to human life, they are still held accountable for their actions in the United States. We commend the United States Attorney’s Office in Miami and our international law enforcement partners for their tireless efforts in connection with the investigation and subsequent prosecution of this case.”
U.S. District Judge Jose E. Martinez presided over the sentencing.
This case was prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorney Ana Maria Martinez of the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of Florida, Roger J. Gural of the Justice Department’s Consumer Protection Branch, and Nathan Sabel of the Food and Drug Administration, Office of Chief Counsel. The case was investigated by the FDA Office of Criminal Investigations.
To learn more about safely buying medicines over the Internet, consumers should consult FDA’s BeSafeRX campaign at http://www.fda.gov/Drugs/ResourcesForYou/Consumers/BuyingUsingMedicineSafely/BuyingMedicinesOvertheInternet/default.htm.