Karen P. Tandy
You’ve most likely been spammed by them. Websites advertising a full medicine cabinet of drugs with no prescriptions needed, no waiting, and no hassle. It sounds too good to be true—and it is.
What these rogue websites peddle is illegal. And today, with Operation Cyber X we show the website operators for what they truly are: a new kind of drug kingpin—operating not from jungle hideaways but from behind computer monitors in their mansions. From suburbia, these e-trafficker kingpins command multimillion dollar nationwide pill empires. Today, we are moving against them in force.
Law enforcement joined together in a 15-month Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Force investigation. Today, we arrested 13 Internet drug dealers here in the Dallas area and 5 in Florida. We arrested the ringleaders and suspended the registrations of 20 doctors and 22 pharmacies.
What is significant about Operation Cyber X is not the number of arrests and suspensions—but the fact that this is the largest Internet pharmacy investigation targeting U.S. based e-traffickers.
To give you a sense of the expanse of this criminal enterprise…the defendants:
• Bought $1 million worth of controlled substances each month,
DEA and IRS logged 2 and a quarter million Internet sessions during the course of the investigation to track the narcotic sales by these defendants. Operation Cyber X is the domestic bookend to last spring’s Operation Cyber Chase where we targeted international Internet drug traffickers operating in the U.S.
The 18 people arrested today owned, operated, or were affiliated with an astonishing 4,600 rogue pharmacy websites. A simple search linked to many of these sites. The sites sold Schedule 3 and 4 controlled substances. Among the drugs they offered were narcotic painkillers, tranquilizers, and stimulants. Once orders were placed—and almost 1 million were processed and mailed during the course of the 15-month investigation—they were rubber-stamped by unscrupulous doctors and processed at pharmacies owned by these operations.
These pharmacies are not your friendly neighborhood walk-in drug stores.
Once the order was filled, the pills were delivered by overnight shippers to the customer. On at least 5 occasions during this investigation, DEA agents ordered drugs undercover from these websites and had the packages delivered directly to our offices in the Dallas area.
One of the ringleaders arrested today, Johar Saran, also engaged in traditional drug dealing, selling codeine cough syrup to walk up customers from the backdoor of his Dallas warehouses. Kids often mix the syrup with soda to get high because it contains a narcotic painkiller.
These websites are fueling prescription drug abuse, which is at an all-time high, and exceeds all other drug abuse except marijuana. Almost 1 out of every 10 high school seniors has abused prescription drugs. Last year, 12,000 new users a day were abusing prescription drugs—and their average age was 23.
Of course, complex cases like this are never the work of just one agency or accomplished without great prosecutors. DEA was joined by countless state and local law enforcement, as well as our colleagues in the FBI, Food and Drug Administration, IRS, and our partners in the U.S. Attorney’s offices in the Northern District of Texas and the Southern and Middle Districts of Florida.
Today’s press conference is a fitting conclusion for Mr. Saran, the ringleader we arrested today. He visited DEA’s website just months ago to study our successful takedown of other illegal web pharmacies.
My message to any other cyber criminals who may be reading about today’s arrests on the web: “The Internet is no longer your private criminal playground. It is no longer a safe haven to traffic drugs. The law can—and will—reach far into cyber space to shut down your e-drug trafficking.”