A federal grand jury has indicted five more people for conspiring to commit extortion under the pretense of being U.S. Food & Drug Administration agents. The false FDA agents allegedly threatened Americans, who had purchased drugs from offshore online pharmacies, with incarceration to extort up to $100,000.

The USFDA announced on February 7th that Jose Miguel Mercado Garcia, 29, of the Dominican Republic, Zulai Morales, 25, of the Dominican Republic, Ramona Pichardo, 51, of New York, New York, Maria Curet, 33, of Providence, Rhode Island, and Milton Goris, 32, of Miami, Florida were indicted. Ramon Pichard was arrested on February 10th, while the remaining defendants are at large.

According to the one count indictment, beginning on December 1, 2007, people claiming to represent pharmaceutical distributors located in the Dominican Republic called and emailed US residents offering to sell pharmaceutical drugs. Purchasers of those pharmaceutical drugs from the Dominican Republic distributors were then instructed to pay via either a money wire service or by credit card.

The indictment alleges that after paying, customers would then receive telephone calls from purported United States FDA agents, who in fact were not FDA agents. The false FDA agents allegedly falsely stated that the customers’ orders from the Dominican Republic had been interdicted, and that the customers now owed fines.

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A federal grand jury has indicted five more people for conspiring to commit extortion under the pretense of being U.S. Food & Drug Administration agents. The false FDA agents allegedly threatened Americans, who had purchased drugs from offshore online pharmacies, with incarceration to extort up to $100,000.

The USFDA announced on February 7th that Jose Miguel Mercado Garcia, 29, of the Dominican Republic, Zulai Morales, 25, of the Dominican Republic, Ramona Pichardo, 51, of New York, New York, Maria Curet, 33, of Providence, Rhode Island, and Milton Goris, 32, of Miami, Florida were indicted. Ramon Pichard was arrested on February 10th, while the remaining defendants are at large.

According to the one count indictment, beginning on December 1, 2007, people claiming to represent pharmaceutical distributors located in the Dominican Republic called and emailed US residents offering to sell pharmaceutical drugs. Purchasers of those pharmaceutical drugs from the Dominican Republic distributors were then instructed to pay via either a money wire service or by credit card.

The indictment alleges that after paying, customers would then receive telephone calls from purported United States FDA agents, who in fact were not FDA agents. The false FDA agents allegedly falsely stated that the customers’ orders from the Dominican Republic had been interdicted, and that the customers now owed fines. The fake agents also used false threats of incarceration to extort funds from these customers. The amounts of money allegedly demanded as fines ranged between $1,300 and $100,000. The false FDA agents instructed victims to pay the fines via Western Union to individuals located throughout the United States, including the defendants Zulai Morales, Ramona Pichardo, Maria Curet and Milton Goris, who had been recruited by Jose Garcia from 2008 to 2009. Upon receipt of the extorted payments, the defendants recruited by Garcia would then transfer the extorted monies, minus a commission, via Western Union to Garcia or one of his agents in the Dominican Republic.

“As this investigation so powerfully illustrates, when consumers purchase drugs outside of legitimate channels, they put more than their health at risk,” said Acting Special Agent in Charge Kathleen Martin-Weis of FDA’s Office of Criminal Investigations. “We will continue to work closely with our regulatory and law enforcement counterparts in the U.S. and internationally to pursue those here and abroad who seek to victimize the American consumer through fraud, coercion, and deception.”

“Schemes like this are operated by individuals who, motivated by greed and self interest, seek to prey on the vulnerabilities of others by impersonating government officials,” said John P. Torres, special agent in charge of ICE HSI in Washington, D.C. “ICE will continue to work with our law enforcement partners to protect the public’s trust in our public officials.”