9 Arrested in Florida's Largest Ever Prosecution of an Online Pharmacy
JUL 15 -- Mark R. Trouville, Special Agent in Charge, Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) Miami Field Division, Florida Attorney General Charlie Crist and Commissioner Guy Tunnell, Florida Department of Law Enforcement (FDLE) announced Florida's largest state prosecution of an organization involved in filling Internet orders for pharmaceutical controlled substances. DEA and FDLE agents arrested eight subjects in south Florida and an additional subject was arrested in Texas. The subjects were involved in an operation - one of the first of its kind broken up in Florida - that filled nationwide orders for powerful painkillers and other medications, without prescriptions or pharmacists. The subjects were arrested pursuant to Florida state arrest warrants for trafficking in hydrocodone; racketeering; conspiracy to traffic in hydrocodone; dispensing prescription drugs without a pharmacist license; dispensing without a prescription; forgery of a prescription drug label; sale of an adulterated or misbranded drug, and adulterating a drug intended for distribution. These arrests coupled with twelve previous arrests have successfully disrupted this Internet trafficking organization.
The arrests were the culmination of Operation Backroom, a nine-month investigation by the Miami-area drug Diversion Response Team (DRT). This task force, established in 2004, includes representatives from DEA, FDLE, the Florida Attorney General's Medicaid Fraud Control Unit and Office of Statewide Prosecution, and the Florida Department of Health. The south Florida-based criminal organization, allegedly headed by a North Bay Village, Florida resident, is accused of illegally filling more than $10 million worth of Internet drug orders since late 2003. The group operated several licensed and unlicensed locations throughout Miami-Dade County, Florida, to fill Internet orders that were not accompanied by legitimate prescriptions. The vast majority of the drug distributions were for Schedule III controlled substance hydrocodone, but also included alprazolam, phentermine and other prescription drugs. It is estimated that each of the operation's locations filled at least 2,000 orders per week. Investigators found no valid prescriptions for filled Internet orders. In some instances, the only requirement imposed on the customer was completion of an Internet questionnaire. Among the websites used for this purpose were www.RxHotdeals.com and www.JetsRX.com.
This investigation identified approximately fourteen pharmacies that were involved with the organization in the furtherance of drug trafficking activities. More than 650,000 pharmaceutical tablets have been seized by members of the DRT. Law enforcement authorities have also obtained the forfeiture of more than $2.2 million in cash and property. Of the fourteen pharmacies licensed with DEA and identified in this organization, eight have been closed administratively and three have voluntarily surrendered their DEA licenses.
Mark R. Trouville, Special Agent in Charge of the DEA Miami Field Division stated, "Drug traffickers who pursue their illegal business via the Internet are no different than street corner drug peddlers and DEA, along with state and local authorities in the Miami area, consider pharmaceutical drug diversion a priority and will not tolerate cyber drug trafficking."
Florida Attorney General Charlie Crist, said "Internet pill pushers operate without regard to the law or medical necessity, and certainly without regard to safety. Their primary focus is on making a quick buck. There is no place in Florida for these kind of drug dealers, and the Diversion Response Team has done an outstanding job of shutting down this operation."
FDLE Commissioner Guy Tunnel added, "Operation Backroom is a great example of the success than can come from inter-agency cooperation. By working with the Attorney General's Office of Statewide Prosecution, their Medicaid Fraud Unit, Florida 's Department of Health and the federal Drug Enforcement Administration, this collaborative effort has produced results that none of us could have gained through a single, individual effort."
The DRTs were formed in July 2004, following legislative authorization. Teams currently operate throughout Florida and are based in Miami, Fort Lauderdale, Orlando, Fort Myers, Tampa, Tallahassee, Jacksonville and Pensacola. The goal of the DRT teams is to work with other federal, state and local law enforcement and regulatory agencies to combat crimes connected with the organized diversion of pharmaceutical drugs.