Internet Pharmacy Owners Sentenced to Five Years in Prison and Ordered to Pay Over $11 Million for Illegal Internet Sales of 10 Million Hydrocodone Pills
JAN 12 --Baltimore, Maryland – Chief U.S. District Judge Benson E. Legg issued an order today following hearings on December 2 and 12, 2008, sentencing both Steven Abiodun Sodipo, age 51, of Forest Hill, Maryland and Callixtus Onigbo Nwaehiri, age 49, of Jarrettsville, Maryland to five years in prison followed by two years of supervised release for illegally selling 9,936,075 pills or dosage units of hydrocodone over the Internet, conspiracy to launder money, engaging in monetary transactions using the proceeds of the illegal drug sales and filing false tax returns, announced United States Attorney for the District of Maryland Rod J. Rosenstein. Sodipo and Nwaehiri were pharmacists and owners of NewCare Pharmacy located at 3423-25 Sinclair Lane, in Baltimore City, Maryland.
Judge Legg also ordered Sodipo and Nwaehiri to each pay $11,870,119.39, the amount of gross proceeds derived from the illegal sale of hydrocodone by NewCare Pharmacy from January 2005 to October 2006, and, in order to satisfy such money judgment, the defendants were ordered to forfeit their homes, seven cars, monies held in 33 bank accounts and a business property owned by Sodipo.
Carl J. Kotowski, Assistant Special Agent in Charge of the Drug Enforcement Administration, Baltimore District Office, stated, "The abuse of prescription drugs is a serious problem throughout the Baltimore metropolitan area. The Newcare Internet Pharmacy investigation represents the largest pharmaceutical drug trafficking case in Baltimore and in Maryland's history. Newcare was Maryland's number one distributor of the highly addictive opiate hydrocodone, via the Internet. Millions of pills were illegally distributed locally and throughout the United States. This should have a major impact in the Baltimore metropolitan area; less overdoses from hydrocodone." According to Mr. Kotowski, "Each illegal distribution is a potential overdose death. Thousands of drug abusers have been cut off from their illicit source of supply. Like traditional drug traffickers, the owners of Newcare received significant jail time and the potential loss of millions of dollars in assets.”
United States Attorney Rod J. Rosenstein said, “Prescription drug abuse is a growing crisis in Maryland and throughout the nation, and it is one of our most important drug enforcement challenges. Many people wrongly assume that prescription drugs are safe. The truth is that using any drugs without proper medical supervision can result in addiction, injury or death.”
“We play a unique role in federal law enforcement’s counter-drug effort in that we target the profit and financial gains of those engaged in illegal drug sales, which comprise a significant portion of the untaxed underground economy,” said C. Andre Martin, Special Agent in Charge of IRS Criminal Investigation's Washington D.C. Field Office.
According to testimony presented during the six week trial, Sodipo and Nwaehiri owned and operated NewCare Home Health Services, Inc., which did business under the name of NewCare Pharmacy. Beginning no later than sometime in 2004 through October 10, 2006, Sopido and Nwaehiri joined a nationwide conspiracy to illegally sell hydrocodone through the Internet to any customer with a valid credit card. Specifically, they engaged in agreements with web-site operators to fill hydrocodone prescriptions e-mailed to them that were signed by a small group of doctors and were for individuals all across the country. The doctors, who never saw or spoke to customers, routinely authorized the prescriptions, which were then wired to NewCare for filling and shipment. In return, NewCare was paid $20 for each prescription it filled and shipped.
Witnesses testified that Sodipo and Nwaehiri knew that 88% of all “prescriptions” filled by NewCare were for hydrocodone, that most prescriptions were issued by doctors located in Florida, that the patients were in all 50 states and D.C., and that there was no doctor patient relationship. From January 1, 2005 through October 10, 2006, NewCare purchased 9.9 million dosage units of hydrocodone, when the national average was under 160,000 units per pharmacy. Hydrocodone is a dangerous and highly addictive narcotic painkiller.
Moreover, the evidence showed that Sodipo and Nwaehiri continued to sell vast quantities of hydrocodone knowing that some of their customers were addicts.
According to trial testimony, Sodipo and Nwaehiri engaged in monetary transactions with criminally derived proceeds from the illegal sale of hydrocodone, depositing their checks into a NewCare bank account. Sodipo and Nwaehiri filed false individual tax returns in 2005, understating the income that they received.
Chief Judge Legg determined at the sentencing hearings that the nationwide conspiracy to illegally sell hydrocodone over the Internet involved over 50 pharmacies, doctors and physician assistants, and totaled sales in excess of $108 million.
United States Attorney Rod J. Rosenstein praised the Drug Enforcement Administration, Internal Revenue Service - Criminal Investigation, Department of Health and Human Services Office of Inspector General, Food and Drug Administration Office of Criminal Investigations, and National Drug Intelligence Center, for their work on the investigation. Mr. Rosenstein also thanked the Baltimore City Police Department, Baltimore County Police Department, Harford County Sheriff’s Office, Maryland Department of Drug Control and State of Maryland Pharmacy Board for their assistance, and commended Assistant U.S. Attorneys Andrea Smith and Paul Budlow, who prosecuted the case.