August 10, 2012: South Carolina Pharmaceutical Distribution Company Pleads Guilty in Multi-Million Dollar Scheme to Purchase and Sell Drugs in the Grey Market
The Department of Justice announced the guilty plea and sentencing of Easley, S.C.-based Altec Medical for engaging in a multi-million dollar prescription drug scheme. Altec Medical pleaded guilty in U.S. District Court in Miami to one count of conspiring to defraud the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and to commit federal offenses in connection with a drug-diversion scheme that lasted from 2007 to 2009.
In the sentencing, U.S. District Judge Robert N. Scola, Jr. ordered Altec to pay a $2 million fine and to forfeit $1 million. The judge also ordered the company to be on probation for one year.
In a criminal information filed with the court, the government charged that Altec paid its supplier and co-conspirator William D. Rodriguez, approximately $55 million for prescription drugs that it knew had been diverted from lawful channels of drug wholesale distribution. "Drug Diversion" refers to various ways in which prescription drugs are removed from lawful channels of distribution and then reintroduced into the marketplace for sale to consumers. In drug diversion schemes, prescription drugs at issue are often stolen from warehouses or cargo trucks; torn from boxes of free samples, repackaged and resold; or bought from individual patients looking to make extra money.
"Drug diversion undermines the safety and effectiveness of our prescription drug system," said Stuart F. Delery, Acting Assistant Attorney General for the Justice Department's Civil Division. "When individuals divert drugs from lawful channels, we cannot be sure that the drugs are properly handled and stored. As a result, diverted drugs could be expired, become contaminated, or have their mechanisms of action altered. Diversion is a serious crime that puts consumers at risk; we will continue to prosecute those who engage in it aggressively."
The Justice Department advises consumers who have concerns about a drug to check the lot numbers on the manufacturer's web site to see if there are any warnings about it.
According to a plea agreement that was filed with the court, Altec became aware that Rodriguez had bought these drugs from individuals who had acquired them illegally and who were not properly licensed to sell prescription drugs on a wholesale basis. The government further charged that Altec and Rodriguez orchestrated the reentry of these drugs into the lawful channels of distribution. According to the government, Rodriguez first sent the diverted drugs to companies he controlled in South Carolina. His companies, in turn, resold the drugs to Altec, which, in turn, resold the drugs to various purchasers throughout the United States, including drug distributors with valid drug distribution licenses. This process caused reentry of the diverted drugs into the ordinary, lawful channels of distribution. Eventually, the diverted drugs were bought by retail pharmacies, which dispensed the drugs by filling prescriptions for individual consumers.
Finally, the government charged that Altec and Rodriguez attempted to conceal their scheme by falsifying a variety of business records. In particular, Altec and Rodriguez falsified documents known as "drug pedigrees." Drug pedigrees are statements required by the FDA of all those who sell wholesale quantities of prescription drugs. The drug pedigrees are supposed to accurately identify all prior sales and transactions so that it is clear that the drugs have been acquired lawfully, and properly stored and held along the way. Despite knowing that the law required accurate pedigrees, Altec admitted that it created pedigrees that falsified prior transactions to make it appear as though the drugs had originally been acquired lawfully.
Use of diverted drugs can cause unpredictable adverse side effects and may fail to treat the condition for which a consumer is taking the drugs. According to the government, neither purchasers who bought from Altec nor consumers who later bought the drugs at retail pharmacies would have purchased the drugs had they known that the drugs had been diverted.
In June 2012, in U.S. District Court in Miami, Rodriguez pleaded guilty to conspiracy and money laundering in a separate case charging him with, among other things, his role in this drug diversion scheme. He has not yet been sentenced.
The case was prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorney Jon M. Juenger, of the U.S. Attorney's Office for the Southern District of Florida, and David A. Frank, of the Justice Department's Consumer Protection Branch. Additional assistance was provided by Joshua Eizen, of the FDA's Office of Chief Counsel for Enforcement. The case was investigated by the FDA's Office of Criminal Investigations.