Fourteen Charged in Internet Pharmacy Ring
FEB 8 -- Mark R. Trouville, Special Agent in Charge, Drug Enforcement Administration, Miami Field Division, and United States Attorney R. Alexander Acosta, and announce that a West Palm Beach grand jury returned an the Indictment charging fourteen (14) individuals and seven (7) companies with illegally trafficking in prescription drugs through internet pharmacies.
According to the Indictment and in-court statements during the defendants’ initial appearances, the defendants engaged in the illegal distribution of controlled substances through the internet. Numerous web sites offered the sale of “lifestyle” drugs for weight loss or sleep aids. On these web sites, the individual buyer, without the help of a physician, personally selected the drug and the quantity of the drug he wished to purchase. Upon making this decision, the buyer was directed to another website, called Tropic Spiral Systems, to fill out a short medical questionnaire. Once they buyer completed the questionnaire, the was directed to yet another website, owned by E.V.A. Global Inc., which would accept payment for the drugs by credit card or require the buyer to mail a money order or similar form of payment to E.V.A. Global. After payment was received, E.V.A. electronically distributed the questionnaire to various physicians around the country. These physicians would review the buyer’s drug selection and completed questionnaire and decide whether to approve the buyer’s selections. The doctors did this without ever seeing or speaking to the buyer to confirm their identity, medical condition, or the appropriateness of the requested medications. Once the physician approved the requested purchase, the buyer’s information would be posted on a website, where one of several internet-based pharmacies filled the order and shipped the controlled substances to the buyers. According to the charges, the pharmacies and the doctors were all contracted by and paid by E.V.A. Global, Inc.
Charged in this Indictment are defendants Frank Hernandez, of Davie, Florida (Counts 1 and 5 - 8); Amada Hernandez, the wife of Frank Hernandez, of Davie, Florida (Counts 1 and 5 - 8); Steve Marhee (Counts 1 and 5 - 8); Emmanuel Antonio (Counts 1 - 12); Lawrence D. Pinkoff, of Hollywood, Florida (Counts 1 - 12); Theophilos Antiniou, of Plantation, Florida (Counts 1 - 12); Paul Wiseberg, of Wellington, Florida (Counts 1 and 9- 12); Howard Helfant, of Boca Raton, Florida (Counts 1 and 9 - 12); Thomas Walker, R.Ph., of North Fort Lauderdale, Florida (Counts 1 and 5 - 7); Edgar Cruz, R.Ph., of Sunrise, Florida (Counts 1 and 5 - 8); Serge Francois, R.Ph. (Counts 1 - 4); Everett Echols, M.D., of Greensboro, North Carolina, (Counts 1 and 9 -12);
Hannibal Edwards, M.D., of Apple Valley, California (Counts 1, 5, 7, and 8); and David Baron, M.D., of Anaheim, California (Count 1).
In addition, seven (7) companies were also charged in the Indictment: C & H Wholesale, located in Davie, Florida; Lifeline Pharmacy, Inc., located in Davie, Florida; EX RX LLC, located in Lenion, New Jersey; E.V.A. Global, Inc., located in Cooper City, Florida; Tropic Spiral Systems, Inc., RX Direct Pharmacy, Inc., located in Deerfield Beach, Florida; and Concept RX, Inc., located in Tamarac, Florida.
On Tuesday, February 6, 2007, defendants Steve Marhee, Emmanuel Antonio, Lawrence D. Pinkoff, Theopholis Antiniou, Edgar Cruz, and Serge Francois appeared before United States Magistrate Judge Lurana Snow for their initial appearances. Bail was set for defendant Marhee, Antonio, Antiniou, and Cruz. Hearings on bail for Pinkoff and Francois were set for a later date. On Wednesday, February 7, 2007, defendant Thomas Walker appeared before United States Magistrate Judge Snow, who released the defendant on bail. The remainder of the defendants and the companies are expected to appear in court at a later date.
U.S. Attorney Acosta stated, “Prescription medications can be just as addictive and as deadly as illegal narcotics when dispensed and used without proper medical input and advise. In this case, internet pharmacies dispensed controlled substances much like a drug dealer would on the street – no questions asked. The U.S. Attorney’s Office will aggressively pursue pharmacies and other professionals who use the internet to peddle drugs.”
“The Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) is committed to keeping our community safe from individuals who facilitate the abuse of pharmaceutical drugs via the Internet,” said DEA Special Agent in Charge Mark R. Trouville. “These rogue websites are fueling prescription drug abuse which is at an all-time high and exceeds all other drug abuse except marijuana. DEA will remain diligent in this fight and continue to work side by side with our partners at the U.S. Attorney’s Office to investigate and prosecute these individuals.”
Mr. Acosta commended the investigative efforts of the DEA’s Drug Enforcement Diversion Group and Criminal Group, and the Federal Bureau of Investigation. The case is being prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorney Ellen L. Cohen.