09/21/2006

Federal authorities arrest 11 people on charges of selling counterfeit drugs over the Internet

By ED SHEARER
Associated Press Writer

ATLANTA- Federal authorities have indicted 11 people in Georgia, North Carolina, South Dakota and the Central American nation of Belize on charges of selling counterfeit prescription drugs over the Internet.

Investigators believe many of the drugs had little or no medicinal value, and that those behind the scam netted more than $19 million.

The operation, which authorities say was based in Alpharetta, Ga., marketed the drugs as Canadian through unsolicited e-mails, but the pills actually were made in Belize, the U.S. attorney's office said Wednesday.

Four Georgia residents implicated in the scam were to appear before a federal magistrate later Wednesday in Atlanta, where prosecutors were expected to reveal more details about the case.

Customers "thought they were getting legitimate and safe prescription drugs over the Internet from Canada at cheaper prices, when in reality they received adulterated fakes that were crudely made in an unsanitary house in Belize," U.S. Attorney David E. Nahmias said.

Nahmias said the drugs were "not properly produced or regulated. You don't know what you're getting." He said authorities did not know how many customers were involved, but obviously it was hundreds.

Nahmias said those arrested out of state would have hearings in those states. One of the accused, Georgia resident Brad Watkins, remained at large, he said.

The indictment seeks forfeiture of numerous properties, automobiles and bank accounts, and a judgment of at least $19.8 million.

Nahmias said the defendants are accused of making 24 different drugs, including counterfeit versions of Vioxx, Viagra, Cialis, Valium and Xanax, and marketing them through unsolicited "spam" advertisements as authentic generic versions of drugs being imported from Canada.

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