California Man Pleads Guilty to Misbranding and Smuggling Conspiracy Involving Online Sale and Distribution of Unapproved Drugs Obtained from Overseas
PITTSBURGH, Pa. – A resident of Murrieta, California, pleaded guilty in federal court to one count of conspiracy to smuggle misbranded drugs into the United States and introduce them into interstate commerce, United States Attorney Scott W. Brady announced today.
Justin Ash, 36, pleaded guilty before United States District Judge Arthur J. Schwab on January 16, 2020.
During his plea hearing, Ash admitted that between January 2016 and May 8, 2018, he engaged in a conspiracy to obtain unapproved drugs in bulk quantities from overseas suppliers, including suppliers in China, for the purpose of pressing the drugs into pills and distributing them to customers throughout the United States via his internet-based business Domestic RCS. Ash’s website, www.domesticrcs.com, advertised multiple unapproved or "misbranded" drugs—clonazolam, diclazepam, flubromazolam, and etizolam—each of which was a non-prescription benzodiazepine or substance with a similar chemical composition. As Ash further acknowledged, these substances carried risks of dependency, toxicity, and even fatal overdose, particularly when combined with other central nervous system depressants. Although his website and the packaging contained in his shipments indicated that the substances were for "research purposes only," Ash admitted that he was aware that the vast majority of his customers purchased the drugs for individual consumption. Indeed, Ash or others acting at his direction communicated directly with individual customers about, among other things, the effects of the drugs when used for personal consumption. In an effort to evade detection by United States federal authorities, including the United States Food and Drug Administration, United States Postal Inspection Service, and United States Customs and Border Protection, Ash also admitted that he caused his overseas suppliers to ship drugs to multiple addresses under his control and in smaller quantities that would draw less government scrutiny.
As part of a written plea agreement, Ash acknowledged causing a loss of more than $550,000 but not more than $1,500,000. He further agreed to forfeit approximately $230,000 in currency seized from his home and a bank account under his control. Ash also agreed to the entry of an additional forfeiture money judgment in the amount of $550,000.
The defendant faces a maximum sentence of five years in prison, a fine of not more than the greater of (i) $250,000 or (ii) an alternative fine in an amount not more than the greater of twice the gross pecuniary gain to any person or twice, or both. Under the Federal Sentencing Guidelines, the actual sentence imposed would be based upon the seriousness of the offense and the prior criminal history, if any, of the defendant.
Assistant United States Attorney Eric G. Olshan is prosecuting this case on behalf of the government. The United States Food and Drug Administration – Office of Criminal Investigations and Homeland Security Investigations conducted the investigation leading to the charge in this case.