18 Charged in Internet Pharmacy Investigation
OCT 09 -- (SALT LAKE CITY) – A federal grand jury returned an indictment early Wednesday afternoon charging 18 individuals, primarily Utah residents, with violations of federal law relating to the distribution of drugs through internet pharmacy businesses based in Utah and elsewhere. Charging documents allege the internet pharmacies distributed substantial quantities of controlled substances, smuggled into the United States from Mexico, through the online businesses. Law enforcement authorities believe more than 11 million pills involving millions of dollars in sales were distributed through the internet businesses from about 2003 through this year.
One count of the nine-count indictment alleges that six of the defendants agreed to sell controlled substances to customers which they represented to be full strength prescriptions of a drug when, in fact, the indictment alleges the defendants knew the drugs were sub-potent versions of the drugs. Purchasers who did not have valid prescriptions from their physician for the medication they were ordering online were provided a prescription by the online business without a medical evaluation or given the controlled substance without a prescription. According to charging documents, the online businesses -- including Lighthousemeds and Federalmeds – were not licensed pharmacies and there is no evidence that Lighthousemeds or Federalmeds ever employed a licensed pharmacist. The DEA conducted several undercover purchases of drugs without a prescription from the two businesses. Most of the tablets DEA purchased were unmarked and far below the purity levels of the drug reported on the label.
Frank Smith, Assistant Special Agent in Charge of the DEA in Salt Lake City said, "Those running illicit pharmacies are no different than your typical drug trafficker. They are peddling controlled substances to people with no concern for their health, safety, or the quality of their product. In several cases, the undercover investigator placed an order for a specific controlled substance, only to find when it was tested by the DEA Laboratory that the drug they received from the online pharmacy was another chemical all together. We are going after these criminals with the same tenacity that we go after heroin or meth dealers."
U.S. Attorney for Utah Brett L. Tolman said today that buying and dispensing prescriptions over the internet is not illegal and gives individuals with valid prescriptions a convenient way to access medications. “However, as with any other business, there are those who operate outside the lines of what is legal in an attempt to make money. The risk is that while those running these illegal businesses are making millions of dollars, those using the businesses to order prescription medication may very well be putting their health at risk.”
Tolman emphasized that today’s indictment is another step in efforts by local, state, and federal law enforcement partners to target illegal prescription drug distribution and abuse in Utah. “We are going to use every tool we have to cut off the supply of prescription drugs obtained through illegal and often unsafe means. Many Utah families understand what it is like to have a loved one struggling with prescription drug abuse. While we may not be able to prevent every circumstance, we are going to continue to aggressively investigate and prosecute those individuals or businesses we believe are circumventing the law to dispense or obtain prescription drugs,” Tolman said.
Charged in the indictment are James A. Brinton, age 61, of Provo; Gregory J. Crosby, age 52, of Provo; Noah Sifuentes, age 56, of Orem, Christina K. Haramija, age 30, of Lehi; Laura B. Harding, age 21, of Lehi; Edgar U. Flores-Cuevas, age 35, of Mexico; Martha Forrest, age 65, of Salt Lake City; Kenneth E. Forrest, age 42, of Provo, Treila Shumway, age 38, of Manti; Timothy A. Shields, age 44, of Provo; Deborah E. McCoard, age 41, of Spring City; Kimberly Lobdell, age 38, of South Jordan; Charles J. Stuart III, age 51, of Mapleton; Rex E. Southwick, age 33, of Orange, California; Thomas Myers, age 47, of Sandy; Enrique Hipolito-Ruiz, age 58, and Victor Francisco Hipolito-Martinez, age 35, both of Tijuana, Mexico; and Jorge Hipolito-Martinez, age 30, of Soler, Mexico. Flores-Cuevas was arrested on a federal complaint in May and is in custody. Federal arrest warrants have been issued for the three other defendants from Mexico. Summons will be issued to the other defendants to appear in federal court for an initial appearance. Defendants charged in federal indictments are presumed innocent unless or until proven guilty in court.
The case is being investigated by the DEA, the FBI, the IRS, the U.S. Secret Service and the Utah Division of Occupational and Professional Licensing.