Online Pill Pushers Busted


Three U.S. physicians and two pharmacists were named Thursday in a 313-count
federal indictment for the illegal online sale of prescription drugs.
According to the Department of Justice (DoJ), the operation handled more than
1 million online orders and grossed approximately $126 million over a
two-year period.


In addition to the doctors and the pharmacists, the indictment names 11
others, including a pharmacy operator, two recruiters, a credit card processor
and eight affiliate Web site operators who participated in the Affpower
distribution network.


Affpower located its administrative headquarters in Costa Rica and its
computer servers in Cyprus. Affpower further relied on foreign-based
agencies, including RX Payments Ltd. of Tel-Aviv, Israel, to process credit-card transactions, and used various bank accounts and an accounting firm in
Nicosia, Cyprus, to distribute proceeds of the enterprise.


The defendants were charged with various racketeering and conspiracy to commit
racketeering counts. The charges also include the distribution and dispensing
of controlled substances, mail and wire fraud, conspiracy to commit money
laundering and conspiracy to dispense misbranded drugs with the intent to
defraud and mislead.


If convicted, the defendants face a maximum 20 years in prison for RICO and
RICO conspiracy; 20 years for mail and wire fraud; 20 years for conspiracy to
commit mail and wire fraud; five years for conspiracy to distribute and dispense
controlled substances; 20 years for money laundering; five years for conspiracy
to violate the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act (FDCA), and three years
for violating the FDCA. The defendants also face millions of dollars in
fines.


“The fraudulent and illegal sale of prescription drugs over the Internet poses
a serious threat to the health of Americans who turn to the Internet in their
need for pharmaceuticals,” U.S. Assistant Attorney General Alice S. Fisher
said in a statement. “The defendants allegedly exploited that need and
provided little or no doctor review while prescribing possibly dangerous
drugs, even as they generated millions of dollars in revenues for
themselves.”


According to the indictment, the Affpower sold controlled and non-controlled
prescription drugs through numerous affiliated Web sites to customers who
lacked prescriptions for the drugs from a personal physician.


The DoJ alleges that Affpower doctors conducted no physical or mental
examinations before issuing prescriptions, had no contact with customers and
had no physician-patient relationship with any customer for whom the doctors
prescribed drugs. Affpower doctors usually reviewed hundreds of customer
orders per day and were typically paid $3 per review.


In some cases, the DoJ claims, Affpower doctors issued prescriptions for drugs
even when a customer’s answers to a health questionnaire suggested that the
ordered drug could pose a danger to the customer. In other cases, the customer
did not have a medical condition for which the ordered medication was an
appropriate treatment.


In yet other cases, a licensed physician never reviewed orders for
prescription pharmaceuticals. Instead, a non-physician member of the Affpower
enterprise who had allegedly stolen the identity of a licensed physician
issued prescriptions using the physician’s name and registration.


“This case is another example of how some people will prey on an unsuspecting
public by illegally and unscrupulously selling medications on the Internet
without regard to the health or safety of the public,” said Director Terry
Vermillion of the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) Office of Criminal
Investigations.

“By pretending to have an honest medical review of their
prescriptions, the public was duped into believing that the defendants had
their best interests at heart when in reality their motivation was money.”

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