Two Conspirators Sentenced in Illegal Internet Distribution of Prescription Diet Drugs
Internet and Toll Free Numbers Used to Order Over 2 Million Doses
Greenbelt, Maryland - U.S. District Judge Peter J. Messitte sentenced Susana Mendez, age 50, of Miami, Florida, today to 24 months probation, including 12 months home detention, and sentenced her husband, Jose Riopedre, age 51, also of Miami, to a year and a day in prison, followed by one year of supervised release, for conspiracy to distribute 2,227,000 million dosage units of phentermine, a drug generally used for weight loss, announced United States Attorney for the District of Maryland Rod J. Rosenstein. Judge Messitte also ordered Mendez and Riopedre to forfeit $1.5 million.
“Greed leads some doctors and pharmacists to engage in the illegal diversion of prescription drugs, which can lead to permanent injuries and even death for addicted users,” said U.S. Attorney Rod J. Rosenstein.
“The diversion and abuse of prescription drugs utilizing the internet is a serious threat to our communities. DEA is committed to being a part of a comprehensive solution, using tools such as the recently implemented Ryan Haight Online Pharmacy Consumer Protection Act, to defeat those who push diverted pharmaceuticals into the hands of those who abuse them,” said Ava A. Cooper-Davis, DEA Special Agent in Charge Washington Field Division.
“The IRS-Criminal Investigation follows the money trail to financially disrupt and dismantle significant illegal trafficking organizations,” stated C. Andre' Martin, Internal Revenue Service-Criminal Investigation Special Agent in Charge. “We are committed to targeting the untaxed underground economy to put that money back into the American economy.”
According to their plea agreements, from March 2005 to October 28, 2005, Jose Riopedre opened and operated Waterview Pharmacy (Waterview), located at 8675 Cherry Lane, Laurel, Maryland, with the assistance of his wife, Susana Mende and from April 2006 to October 2006, Riopedre and Mendez were involved with the operations of Union Pharmacy (Union), located at 13848 Old Columbia Pike, Silver Spring, Maryland, which was owned by co-conspirator Josiah Akinsoji. Both of these pharmacies received all of their prescriptions orders from the Internet and were part of an Internet pharmacy business that was connected to a network of websites, businesses, and doctors who utilized the Internet unlawfully to sell controlled substances to customers throughout the United States.
The unlawful Internet pharmacy websites, several of which were controlled by co-conspirator Eduardo Garcia, allowed customers to place orders for various prescription drugs, including controlled substances, after the customer completed a brief on-line questionnaire describing the customer’s medical background and the customer’s reason for requesting the prescription drug. The questionnaires were forwarded to a group of licensed physicians located in Puerto Rico, who purportedly reviewed the questionnaires and approved the requests for the controlled substances. The customer never met or spoke with a doctor, or had his or her questionnaire verified. The controlled substances were not issued for a legitimate medical purpose because the customers ordering the controlled substances and the doctors approving the orders had not established a valid doctor-patient relationship. Customers were not required to submit a valid form of identification or a valid prescription prior to ordering the controlled substances through either ordering method. The unlawful Internet pharmacy websites lacked controls to prevent customers from ordering multiple prescriptions for the same controlled substance on the same day or before a previous prescription should be refilled.
Mendez and Riopedre also operated two businesses that collected the payments from the customers, ordered and paid for the controlled substances to fill the drug orders, paid the brick and mortar pharmacies which actually filled each prescription and paid the coconspirator doctors for each customer order reviewed.
During their respective periods of operation, Waterview and Union filled and distributed by overnight delivery thousands of prescriptions for Phentermine, a drug generally used for weight loss, outside the scope of professional practice and not for a legitimate medical purpose. These drug orders were filled in Maryland and shipped to customers in numerous states including Louisiana, Ohio, Florida and Texas. This business netted Riopedre and Mendez in excess of $1,500,000.
In related cases, in September 2005, Lazaro Vega opened Park & Clay pharmacy, located at 219 Park Avenue in Baltimore, Maryland and began filling drug orders from the websites owned by Garcia. Vega hired Derrick Truby as the registered pharmacist at Park and Clay Pharmacy, and from January to March 2006 Truby allowed the pharmacy to fill thousands of internet prescriptions for controlled substances when he was not on the pharmacy premises.
Eduardo Garcia, age 56, of Miami, Florida; Lazaro Vega, age 35, of Miami, Florida; Derrick Truby, age 46, of Catonsville, Maryland; and Josiah Akinsoji age 55, of Miami, Florida all pleaded guilty to conspiracy to distribute and possession with intent to distribute Phentermine. Garcia was sentenced to six months home detention; Truby was sentenced to five months in prison, followed by five months home detention; and Akinsoji was sentenced to eight months in prison. No date has been set for Vega’s sentencing.
United States Attorney Rod J. Rosenstein commended the Drug Enforcement Administration and Internal Revenue Service - Criminal Investigation for the investigative work performed in this Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Force (OCDETF) case. Mr. Rosenstein thanked Assistant U.S. Attorneys Bryan E. Foreman and Emily Glatfelter, who are prosecuting the case.