Online Pharmacy Owner Sentenced to 7 Years in Fake Drug Distribution Conspiracy

An online pharmacy owner, operating out of Texas, was sentenced to seven years in federal prison for trafficking and attempting to traffic in counterfeit medicine, specifically fake versions of the pharmaceutical weight loss drug known as Alli that contained a dangerous substitute ingredient that caused stroke in one victim.

The U.S. Department of Justice issued a statement saying that Shengyang Zhou, age 31, of Kunming, Yunnan, China, was sentenced to 87 months imprisonment and ordered to pay restitution of more than $500,000 to victims of his crime, including an emergency room doctor from Texas who suffered a stroke from ingesting the counterfeit medication.

Agents discovered that the drug that Zhou was producing and trafficking contained undeclared active ingredients including dangerous levels of Sibutramine. Sibutramine can cause high blood pressure, seizures, tachycardia, palpitations, heart attack or strokes, reported the Denver Post. There were many counterfeit drug incident reports from consumers who suffered adverse affects from taking medication purchased from his website or from re-distributors.

At the end of his sentence, Zhou will be deported. He was remanded immediately following his sentencing hearing.

Zhou pled guilty to trafficking in counterfeit medications in January, 2011, culminating a two-year investigation that began when the FDA issued a series of alerts concerning tainted weight loss pills and counterfeit drugs.

The FDA warned the public about counterfeit versions of the brand name drug Alli, indicating that these counterfeit drugs were being imported into the United States from China and 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.

Law enforcement agents identified Zhou as the trafficker and importer in the US of these counterfeit medicines, and Zhou admitted he was the manufacturer as well.

Zhou conducted business from a website, “” out of Plano, Texas.

U.S. Attorney John Walsh said, “Those who rely on the Internet to obtain their prescription medication must do due diligence to ensure they are dealing with a reputable company providing the actual medicine prescribed by a physician.”

Said Patrick J. Holland, Special Agent in Charge of the FDA Office of Criminal Investigations Kansas City Field Office, “This case highlights that even when complex criminal networks engage in such illegal activities on a global scale from a foreign-based location, without regard for risk to human life, they are still held accountable for their actions in the United States.”

By S. Imber