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Monday, October 06, 2014

Three Indicted in Prescription Drug Smuggling Ring

The Department of Justice announced today that three Athens, Texas, residents have been indicted on charges associated with their alleged smuggling of imitation, unapproved, and misbranded prescription drugs from China.

Wanda Hollis, 63, Tom Giddens, 57, and Catherine Nix, 41, were each charged with one felony count of conspiracy to smuggle merchandise into the United States, seven counts of causing the introduction of misbranded drugs into interstate commerce with the intent to defraud or mislead, seven counts of smuggling and one count of tampering with a witness.  Giddens was also charged with two additional counts of tampering and Nix was charged with one additional tampering count.  The defendants were also charged with misdemeanor counts of causing misbranded imitation drugs to be introduced into interstate commerce.  Nix was arrested on October 2 in Athens.  Giddens and Hollis surrendered this morning.

According to the indictment, the defendants conspired to smuggle at least 30 known shipments, totaling approximately 100,000 pills, from China to Texas.  As alleged in the indictment, the shipments contained bogus imitations of Xanax, Valium, sibutramine, Cialis, Viagra and Stilnox, which is marketed in the United States as Ambien.  None of the pills seized and tested were legitimate, and all either contained incorrect active ingredients or were sub-potent.  The defendants also attempted to conceal their smuggling by using shipping labels that concealed the contents of their shipments, including customs declarations falsely describing the contents as “gifts” or “toys” with low declared monetary values, and by using multiple addresses in an effort to reduce the likelihood of seizures by U.S. Customs authorities.  Additionally, the indictment states that the defendants instructed family members to destroy evidence once they became aware that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) was investigating them.

“The smuggling and sale of counterfeit prescription drugs puts the public's health and safety at risk,” said Acting Assistant Attorney General Joyce R. Branda for the Justice Department’s Civil Division.  “Consumers should know that the drugs they are buying are what they purported to be and not misbranded to look like name-brand products that could ultimately do them more harm than good.”
“A key element of FDA’s mission to protect the public’s health is to ensure that safe and effective prescription drugs are properly distributed via the supply chain and dispensed to the ultimate consumer, and that includes ensuring that those prescription drugs contain the treatments that patients expect,” said Acting Director Philip J. Walsky of the FDA’s Office of Criminal Investigations.  “We will continue to pursue and bring to justice those who would put the public’s health at risk by introducing illegal prescription drugs.”

This case was investigated by the FDA’s Office of Criminal Investigations and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement-Homeland Security Investigations.  The case is being prosecuted by Trial Attorney John W.M. Claud of the Civil Division’s Consumer Protection Branch and Assistant U.S. Attorney Allen Hurst for the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Texas.

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