Ventura County Interagency Pharmaceutical Crimes Unit Busts Fake Drugs Ring Selling Pharmaceuticals Made of Shredded Plastic

Ventura County Counterfeit Drugs

Confiscated fake drugs. Image courtesy of Ventura County Sheriff's Department.

A tip called in to the local “Crime Stoppers” line informed the Ventura County Interagency Pharmaceutical Crimes Unit (VCIPCU) that fake drugs imported from Mexico were being sold in a local store in Santa Paula. Subsequent investigations led the VCIPCU to make arrests of 20 people throughout Ventura and Los Angeles Counties as well as the seizure of more than 30,000 doses of fake drugs.

A counterfeit drug importation ring based in Tijuana Mexico was broken up this past June as the result of undercover investigations by the VCIPCU, reports a Ventura County Sheriff’s Office press release. According to the Sheriff’s Office, the local Crime Stoppers unit received a tip that a market in Santa Paula was selling prescription medication without a lawful pharmacist on staff to oversee prescriptions. Upon further investigation, the VCIPCU officers learned that the same illicit pharmaceuticals were being sold in several other area markets in Oxnard, Simi Valley, and Fillmore.

The Sheriff’s Office also reports that continued investigations led the task force to store fronts in downtown Los Angeles, and ultimately 15 different locations were searched in Ventura and Los Angeles Counties. Among the fake drugs discovered in the searches were antibiotics, antifungals, antivirals, antispasmodics, analgesics, malaria treatments, lifestyle drugs, and steroids. The task force also learned of at least one person who sustained a life-threatening infection as a result of taking these illegally imported prescriptions.

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According to the Sheriff’s Office press release, the VCIPCU Task Force tracked down a Craigslist ad offering similar medications for sale in bulk and covertly contacted the seller, a Tijuana resident named Miguel Meza. Meza offered to sell the detectives several of the drugs they had previously found being sold in Ventura, along with Xanax, Ritalin, Norco, tramadol, and Adderall. Investigators made a small purchase of medication from Meza and his partner Pedro Morales.

The Sheriff’s Department described the investigation: “Investigators again arranged to meet Meza and Morales for a much larger deal for additional drugs. Meza and Morales were arrested at the Fashion Valley Mall, in San Diego, when they arrived for the deal. Over 1,600 pills intended for sale were seized. The pills included the ADHD treatment drugs Ritalin and Adderall, as well as Xanax, tramadol, and various antibiotics. Detectives also served a search warrant on Meza’s storage locker located in the 600 block of San Ysidro Boulevard, in San Ysidro. Over 20,000 dosage units of prescription medications, as well as a quarter pound of Ketamine, and a small amount of marijuana were recovered from the locker.”

The non-FDA approved drugs were made in several foreign countries including Mexico and Pakistan. Preliminary testing on the drugs found that the majority of them were counterfeit or adulterated, with some drugs primarily composed of shredded plastic, reports the Sheriff’s Department.

Meza and Morales have been booked into Ventura County Jail. Bail has been set of both at $600,000 each.

The Ventura Sheriff’s Department describes the Ventura County Interagency Pharmaceutical Crimes Unit as “a full time task force comprised of members of law enforcement from the Ventura County Sheriff’s Office, Simi Valley Police Department, the District Attorney’s Office Bureau of Investigation, and the California Highway Patrol. The task force’s main mission is combatting the transfer of legal prescription medication to the illegal market.”

The Ventura County Interagency Pharmaceutical Crimes Unit (VCIPCU) was assisted in this investigation by the Medical Board of California, The Los Angeles Health Authority Law Enforcement Task Force (HALT), and The Ventura County Sheriff’s Narcotics East County Street Team, reports the Sheriff’s Department.

By S. Imber