Wisconsin Pharmacist and Nevada Pharmacologist Charged with Smuggling Counterfeit Pharmaceuticals Using a Costa Rican Internet Pharmacy
Defendants Allegedly Conspired to Smuggle More Than Four Million Misbranded and Counterfeit Pills into U.S.
A Wisconsin pharmacist and a Nevada pharmacologist were arraigned on an indictment today in Federal Court in Central Islip, New York, before United States Magistrate Judge Gary Brown. The defendants are charged with conspiring to supply at least four million misbranded and counterfeit pharmaceuticals to an illegal Internet pharmacy based in Costa Rica that catered to U.S. customers.
Assistant Attorney General Leslie R. Caldwell of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division; United States Attorney Loretta E. Lynch of the Eastern District of New York; Assistant Director in Charge George C. Venizelos of the FBI’s New York Field Office; Acting Special Agent in Charge James Royal of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), Office of Criminal Investigations’ New York Field Office and Special Agent in Charge James T. Hayes Jr. of Homeland Security Investigations’ (HSI) New York Field Office made the announcement.
The 10-count indictment charges Marla Ahlgrimm, 59, of Madison, Wisconsin, and Balbir Bhogal, 67, of Las Vegas, Nevada, with importing and distributing controlled substances and misbranded drugs, trafficking in counterfeit drugs, mail and wire fraud, smuggling and money laundering.
According to the indictment and information presented at the arraignment, from June 2007 through May 2010, Ahlgrimm and Bhogal, who is a dual U.S. and Indian citizen, allegedly arranged for the manufacture in India of millions of tablets of controlled substances, including alprazolam and phentermine, and prescription drugs, including carisoprodol and counterfeit Viagra. Although they did not hold an importer’s license from the Drug Enforcement Administration, the defendants allegedly arranged for the importation of the same drugs into the United States. Neither the incoming packages nor the tablets themselves were labeled or identified as controlled substances or prescription drugs.
The drugs were allegedly intended to supply an Internet pharmacy based in Costa Rica that catered to customers within the United States, including Brooklyn and Queens, New York. The Internet pharmacy used call centers and websites based outside the United States, but filled the orders from inside the United States using individuals who were not licensed pharmacists to bottle, label and drop-ship the drugs. To facilitate the operation, the defendants allegedly wired money from Costa Rica to the United States and then to India.
An indictment is merely an accusation, and the defendants are presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty.
The case was jointly investigated by the FBI, FDA’s Office of Criminal Investigations, and HSI. The case is being prosecuted by Senior Counsel Evan C. Williams of the Criminal Division’s Computer Crime and Intellectual Property Section and Assistant U.S. Attorney William P. Campos of the Eastern District of New York.