LOS ANGELES – Calling counterfeit and illegal pharmaceuticals a serious threat to public health and safety, City Attorney Mike Feuer today announced that his office has successfully secured an injunction and $50,000 in civil penalties, restitution and investigative costs against a couple alleged to have illegally imported dangerous, illegal, counterfeit and misbranded drugs from Mexico and Central America and distributed the drugs to local shops and across the country. The case was part of a four-year multi-agency investigation into the sale and distribution of illegal pharmaceuticals in Southern California, Oregon and Arizona, and is believed to be one of the largest ever conducted in the U.S.
"Counterfeit and illegal pharmaceuticals pose a serious threat to public health and safety," said Feuer. "My office and our law enforcement partners will continue to bring those who prey upon some of our most vulnerable residents, and jeopardize their health, to justice."
"The Los Angeles Police Department will continue to work in partnership with our federal partners and the City Attorney's Office to combat the illicit sales of pharmaceutical drugs on the streets of Los Angeles," said Captain Synthia L. Lee, Commanding Officer, LAPD Piracy Detail.
Flavia Maria Rodriguez and her associate, Salvador Enrique Velasco Sanchez, were each placed under a permanent injunction prohibiting them from engaging in the sale of pharmaceuticals or to engage in any advertising related to pharmaceutical or herbal remedies. The court also ordered $50,000 in civil penalties, investigative costs and restitution.
The lawsuit alleged that Rodriguez and Velasco Sanchez engaged in a large-scale conspiracy to import illegal, dangerous, misbranded and counterfeit pharmaceuticals from Central America and Mexico and distribute them throughout the United States. Private investigators and law enforcement officials determined that Velasco repeatedly traveled to El Salvador and shipped pharmaceuticals back to Rodriguez in Los Angeles. The pharmaceuticals were stored inside their home located in South Los Angeles. The pharmaceuticals were distributed in Los Angeles, Compton, Bakersfield, Reno, San Francisco, Houston, and Atlanta.
The investigation revealed that neither Rodriguez nor Velasco is licensed to sell pharmaceuticals. Investigators also determined that Rodriguez was an employee at a South Los Angeles business, Tienda Quetzal Nava (2824 S. Vermont Avenue), where dangerous, misbranded and counterfeit pharmaceuticals allegedly were sold. In September, the City Attorney successfully secured an injunction against that business, and another related business leading to their closure. Another employee at that location, Blanca Garcia Perez, was also criminally prosecuted for selling prescription medication without a license and was sentenced to 36 months of probation and 20 days of community labor as well as $3,500 in restitution for the cost of the investigation.
Defendants sold various combinations of dangerous, illegal and misbranded pharmaceuticals to investigators on 14 separate occasions. The illegal pharmaceuticals sold at the property included tetracycline, and counterfeit pharmaceuticals included the anti-inflammatory injectable Diprospan. In May of 2018, law enforcement served a search warrant at their home and recovered 42,605 illegal, misbranded and counterfeit pharmaceuticals.
The City Attorney’s efforts against counterfeit and banned pharmaceuticals are part of an ongoing partnership with the Los Angeles Police Department's Piracy Team. LAPD Detective Dondee Stout was the lead investigator in the case. The Health Authority Law Enforcement Task Force (HALT), assisted with the investigation and is comprised by members of the Los Angeles County Health Department, the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department and a licensed pharmacist. The task force investigates health care-related crimes including the manufacture, sale and distribution of illegal, misbranded and counterfeit pharmaceuticals. Many of these products include drugs bearing non-English labels, drugs without lot numbers, warnings or expiration dates, and drugs not in original packaging.
Supervising City Attorney Kevin Gilligan, and Deputy City Attorney Sasha Lazarevich of the City Attorney’s Anti-Counterfeit Enforcement Program, successfully handled the litigation and criminal prosecutions.