Counterfeit Weight-loss Drug Smuggling leads to 2 Guilty Pleas and Serious Health Incident

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Shengyang Zhou, aka “Tom,” 31, of Kunming, Yunnan, China pleaded guilty to charges of trafficking and attempting to traffic in counterfeit goods, namely counterfeit versions of the pharmaceutical weight-loss drug known as “Alli.” Naturalized American citizen, Qingming Hu, 61 of Plano, Texas, pleaded guilty Jan. 28 to distributing Sibutramine, a Schedule IV non-narcotic controlled substance after US victims experienced life-threatening side-effects..

Who: Joint Effort of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI), the Food and Drug Administration’s Office of Criminal Investigations (FDA OCI), and the U.S. Postal Inspection Service.

When: January 28, 2011;Crimes committed 2009-2010.

Where: Zhou was arrested in Honolulu, Hawaii. Hu was arrested in Plano, Texas. Zhou and Hu were indicted by a federal grand jury in Denver, Colorado. The criminal enterprise was conducted in Plano, Texas. Undercover operations were conducted in Hawaii.

How: Agents acting in an undercover capacity placed numerous orders for the counterfeit and illegal diet pills, wired money and eventually met with Zhou. Zhou identified himself as the manufacturer of the counterfeit Alli. As the investigation continued, undercover agents and Zhou met in Hawaii where Zhou provided proof that he was capable of producing large quantities of Alli, and agents handed Zhou cash to complete the Alli order transaction. At that point, Zhou was arrested.

Additional details: According to court documents, over the course of December 2008 through March of 2009, the FDA issued a series of alerts on its website concerning tainted weight loss pills and counterfeit drugs. Initial alerts focused on “Superslim,” “2 Day Diet,” and Meitzitang, among other purported weight-loss products believed to having been imported from China and being marketed as dietary supplements or nutritional products. The FDA stated in these initial alerts that the items posed a very serious health risk to consumers, because, based on analysis, they were found to be drugs that contained undeclared active pharmaceutical ingredients, including Sibutramine (a non-narcotic controlled substance).

Sibutramine can cause high-blood pressure, seizures, tachycardia, palpitations, heart attack or stroke. In later alerts, FDA warned the public about counterfeit versions of the brand-name drug “Alli,” a popular over-the-counter weight-loss drug manufactured by GlaxoSmithKlein. The alerts indicated that these counterfeit drugs were also being imported into the United States from China; they did not contain the proper active pharmaceutical ingredient for the authentic product, but instead contained dangerous levels of Sibutramine. The counterfeit versions of Alli were being sold in the United States, among other ways, through internet websites, including online auction websites such as eBay.

During the course of the investigation, law enforcement agents identified Zhou as the trafficker and importer into the United States of these counterfeit and unapproved purported weight-loss-related drugs. Zhou also identified himself as the manufacturer of the counterfeit Alli.

Zhou’s website, “,” indicated that his business operated a U.S. branch out of Plano, Texas. Agents determined through investigation that the branch was operated by Qing Ming Hu, a naturalized U.S. citizen born in China. Some of the unapproved product featured in FDA public alerts was shipped to Hu for re-distribution to U.S. customers.

Related sources:

FDA Warns Consumers About Counterfeit Alli,” FDA News Release. January 28th 2010.

Warning: Counterfeit Alli,”FDA Consumer Warning. January 25th, 2010.

U.S. Charges Two with Illegally Importing Diet Medicines,” Wall Street Journal. March 27th, 2010.

Chinese National Pleads Guilty to Trafficking Counterfeit Weight-Loss Drug,” US-ICE News Release. January 28th, 2011