Feds nab suspects in $70M Lilly heist

For several years now, a trail of large pharmaceutical cargo theft led to south Florida. Authorities have now arrested nearly two dozen suspects, many from Miami, including two Cuban brothers tied to the heist of more than $70 million worth of drugs from an Eli Lilly ($LLY) warehouse in Connecticut.

The feds say the 23 suspects are tied to pharmaceutical cargo losses worth tens of millions of dollars throughout the country, Reuters reports. According to a statement from Lilly, most of the drugs stolen from its warehouse have been recovered, although safety concerns and FDA rules about how the drugs have been stored since the theft will dictate what happens to them now.

The drugs were taken two years ago in a daring heist, the details of which were like something out of Ocean's Eleven--a dismantled alarm, burglars rappelling through a skylight and the use of a forklift to load pallets of drugs onto a semi. Drugs taken included Lilly's schizophrenia drug Zyprexa, its anti-depressant Prozac and the cancer drug Gemzar.

In fact, Charles Forsaith, coordinator of the Pharmaceutical Cargo Security Coalition, said it seemed a few years ago that there was a very organized gang working out of south Florida "that would literally have a shopping list, and they would target a particular company or a particular site."

Forsaith, whose day job is director of supply chain security for Purdue Pharma Technologies, says the Eli Lilly burglary and several others at the time served as a wake-up call to the industry. He credits the coalition--whose mission it is to combat this type of crime--with helping the industry shake a certain naiveté that had allowed criminals to take advantage of vulnerabilities.

Not only did pharma companies start using certain technology, like hiding GPS devices in cargo loads; they started using common sense. For instance, making sure that transport companies used two-person driving teams so a rig was never left unattended.

The result has been a dramatic decrease in pharmaceutical cargo theft. Last year, according to coalition statistics, there were only 5 stolen shipments with a value that topped $500,000, and only three over $1 million. In 2009, there were 15 in the $500,000-plus category, 11 of which topped $1 million.

Along the way, the group also collected data and information that may very well have helped authorities track down the alleged cargo theft gang. And as a result of the investigations, U.S. Attorney David Fein in Connecticut says, "we believe that a prolific cargo theft ring has been dismantled." 

- read the WSJ story
- here's more from Reuters
- get the Eli Lilly press release