Counterfeit Pill Manufacturer Sentenced to 14 Years in Federal Prison
Columbia, South Carolina---- United States Attorney Sherri A. Lydon announced today that Eric Hughes, age 37, of Bluffton, South Carolina, was sentenced in federal court after pleading guilty to drug conspiracy and money laundering. Chief United States District Judge Terry L. Wooten, of Columbia, sentenced Hughes to 168 months in federal prison. There is no parole in the federal system.
Evidence presented to the court established that Hughes and his co-defendants operated a counterfeit pill manufacturing operation in the Lowcountry of South Carolina. The conspirators rented vacation houses at Fripp Island, Sullivans Island, Isle of Palms, Bluffton, and Tybee Island, Georgia, where they set up clandestine pharmaceutical laboratories for a month at time. Each month, the conspiracy produced approximately 500,000 counterfeit pills, which appeared to be legitimate pharmaceuticals.
Hughes ordered precursors—U-47700 (a synthetic opioid) and alprazolam—from China using the dark web. He then used formulas found on the internet to mix the active ingredients with binding agents and dye to make a powdery substance that was fed into the pill press. The press could produce 4,500 pills an hour.
The counterfeit pills were then sold to distributors on the dark web and provided to distributors in South Carolina. The pills sold on the dark web were purchased using bitcoins. The bitcoins were then laundered through various accounts to hide their locations. Over a million dollars in bitcoins was generated and hid by the conspiracy.
The conspiracy was ultimately captured when agents from the DEA executed multiple search warrants in August 2017, including on a beach house on Tybee Island, Georgia, where the conspiracy had a laboratory set up. Agents found the house to be covered in residue of U-47700 and alprazolam, which required the agents to enter with respirators and full containment clothing. The clean-up of the beach house cost $213,000, which the defendant was ordered to pay.
The case was investigated by agents of the DEA. Assistant United States Attorney Jim May of the Columbia office prosecuted the case.