The Department of Justice announced today that two Athens, Texas, residents have been sentenced for their role in the smuggling of imitation, unapproved and misbranded prescription drugs from China.
Tom Giddens, 57, and Wanda Hollis, 63, were each sentenced to serve 15 months in prison by U.S. District Court Judge Michael H. Schneider in the Eastern District of Texas. In April 2015, they each pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to smuggle the drugs into the United States. A third defendant, Catherine Nix, 42, also of Athens, will be sentenced at a later date.
In 2009, the defendants smuggled at least 43 known shipments, totaling approximately 106,000 pills, from China to Texas. The shipments contained unapproved, bogus versions of several U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA)-approved drugs that, because of the health and safety risks associated with their use, require valid prescriptions to dispense. The prescription drugs seized included: Xanax®; Valium®; sibutramine; Cialis®; Viagra®; and, Stilnox®, marketed in the United States as Ambien®. None of the pills that were seized and tested were legitimate. Some were sub-potent, but most contained entirely different active ingredients from the legitimate, approved versions. The defendants also attempted to conceal their smuggling by using shipping labels that misrepresented 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 and Border Protection authorities.
“Consumers of prescription drugs need to know that what they are buying is legitimate, safe, and approved,” said Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General Benjamin C. Mizer, head of the Justice Department’s Civil Division. “This illegal operation introduced over 100,000 bogus pills into the stream of commerce, potentially posing a huge public health and safety risk. Consumers should know that the drugs they are buying are exactly what they appear to be, and not false versions of name-brand products that could ultimately do them more harm than good.”
“This office remains committed to stemming the increasing flood of illegitimate prescription drugs that come into East Texas,” said U.S. Attorney John M. Bales of the Eastern District of Texas. “This case puts the very real, inherent dangers of counterfeit prescription drugs on full display. These pills looked almost exactly like their legitimate counterparts, but lacked any of the safety or efficacy of the legitimate versions.”
“FDA’s laws are in place to ensure that consumers have access to safe and effective prescription drugs,” said Director George M. Karavetsos of the FDA’s Office of Criminal Investigations. “Those who evade those laws risk harming the public’s health. We will continue to work with our law enforcement partners to keep the U.S. marketplace free of illegitimate medical products.”
This case was investigated by the FDA-OCI and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s Homeland Security Investigations. The case was prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorney Allen Hurst of the Eastern District of Texas and by Trial Attorney John W.M. Claud of the Civil Division’s Consumer Protection Branch.