March 21, 2022: Class I recalls of COVID-19 tests and prescription drug smuggling

Last week, the Food and Drug Administration issued two Class I recalls for COVID-19 rapid test kits. Five men were charged with selling illegally imported prescription drugs on the web. Washington State’s Attorney General filed a lawsuit against a company that misled patients into paying for unsubstantiated treatments. An Iowa man was sentenced for the deceptive sale of illegally imported ED drugs. Mexican authorities issued two alerts for counterfeit drugs. 30 other incidents across the country involved fentanyl and other substances pressed into counterfeit pills.

On March 16th and 17th, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) issued Class I recalls for two rapid COVID-19 test kits:

On March 11th, the FDA also announced ACON Laboratories’ recall of a third unapproved test, the “Flowflex SARS-CoV-2 Antigen Rapid Test.”

A Class I recall indicates that using a product could cause serious injuries or death.

Federal courts in the Western District of Michigan charged five defendants with smuggling prescription drugs into the U.S. and distributing them across the country. Those charged allegedly sold the illegal medicines, which included drugs to treat breast cancer, narcolepsy, infertility, acne, and erectile dysfunction and anabolic-androgenic steroids, online to U.S. patients without a prescription.

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Washington State’s Attorney General filed a lawsuit against Seattle-based U.S. Stemology and its owner for making fraudulent claims about the effectiveness of stem cell treatments for COVID-19 and dozens of other serious medical conditions. The lawsuit claims that the company misled patients into believing that they were participating in “clinical research,” when they actually paid almost $750,000 to receive unproven treatments.

David Kempema of Sioux City, Iowa received an 18-month prison sentence for introducing misbranded drugs into interstate commerce with intent to defraud. Between February 2014 and December 2018, Kempena illegally imported pills that treat erectile dysfunction from India and Germany, and promoted and sold them as dietary supplements. He served 60 days in prison for a similar crime in 2012.

COFEPRIS, Mexico’s regulatory agency, issued alerts about counterfeit Opdivo (nivolumab), an infused drug that treats a wide variety of advanced cancers, and Meropenem, an injectable antibiotic.

An example of US Stemology's advertising (Image: Washington AG's Facebook)

Counterfeit pills across the country

In the Northeast

27-year-old Vincent Caruso, of Lynn, Massachusetts pleaded guilty to operating a drug trafficking organization that used high-volume pill press machines to make tens of thousands of fentanyl pills to be sold on Massachusetts’ North Shore. Caruso was charged with three co-conspirators June 30, 2021. Two of those have pleaded guilty; a third pleaded not guilty and is awaiting trial.

Brockton, Massachusetts resident Binh Thanh Le received an eight-year prison sentence for manufacturing MDMA, Ketamine and more than 10,000 counterfeit alprazolam (Xanax) pills and selling them on the dark web. Le must also forfeit more $150,000 and more than 59 Bitcoin (currently worth in excess of $2 million).

One of many images from the criminal complaint against the Caruso Drug Trafficking Organization.

Angel Rodriguez Leon, of Carlisle, Pennsylvania, will serve at least one year of prison for selling  a Shippensburg University student, Yosef “Joey” Alajlouni, fentanyl pills disguised as Percocet that killed him in December 2019.

A Georgia resident was charged with selling narcotics by a Vermont federal court. Officers seized illicit drugs, including hundreds of pills containing fentanyl, from his South Burlington hotel room on March 10th.

In the Midwest

Esko, Wisconsin resident Luke John Hansmeyer received a five-year sentence for first-degree reckless homicide after he provided fentanyl pills disguised as oxycodone that ultimately killed a St. Louis County man in 2020.

Michigan’s Washtenaw County Health Department warned residents to be aware of fentanyl or xylazine mixed into cocaine or heroin and counterfeit tablets made with fentanyl, xylazine, and methamphetamine.

Federal courts charged a California man who allegedly smuggled over four kilograms of fentanyl pills to Kansas City, Missouri via bus with drug trafficking.

Law enforcement in Sedgwick County, Kansas seized more than one pound of fentanyl powder, about 1,500 fentanyl pills and other drugs during a warranted search on March 16th.

The Washtenaw County Health Department issued a warning on March 17, 2022.

Bismarck, North Dakota’s Metro Area Task Force officers found 5,000 fentanyl pills, handguns, and more than $40,000 cash when searching an apartment in Mandan. A search on a second home the next day yielded over 30 weapons, drugs and 300 fentanyl pills.

A resident of Dayton, Ohio was charged with involuntary manslaughter and drug trafficking for allegedly providing the fake oxycodone pills that killed 29-year-old Nicholas M. Walker in December 2020.

A Crystal Lake, Illinois resident was charged with drug-induced homicide for allegedly selling fentanyl pills that caused Colton Steiner’s death in June 2021.

In the South

A billboard in the Houston area, March 2022.

A man in Smyrna, Tennessee is facing second degree murder charges for allegedly selling 22-year-old mother Mily Bolon, of South Nashville, the counterfeit oxycodone made with fentanyl that killed her on November 13, 2020.

An alleged heroin trafficker already in custody in Union County, North Carolina has also been charged with second degree murder for providing a 31-year-old Indian Trail woman with fentanyl pills that led to her poisoning death in December 2020.

The McCracken County Sheriff's Office announced the arrest of a 16-year-old in Paducah, Kentucky for allegedly selling counterfeit oxycodone pills suspected to contain fentanyl.

Authorities in Houston, Texas launched a billboard campaign to warn residents about fentanyl, particularly in counterfeit prescription pills.

In the Mountain West

In Billings, Montana, a man pleaded guilty to possession of distribution quantities of multiple drugs, including more than 9,000 fentanyl pills.

Missoula police are seeking Christopher R. Clark, who allegedly sold fentanyl pills disguised as Percocet that poisoned three teenagers—one fatally—in May 2021. The Missoulian reported that after the victim died, “Clark posted on social media that he had a pack of a thousand pills and some of them could be ‘dirty.’”

A woman in Colorado Springs, Colorado was indicted for allegedly selling counterfeit pills containing fentanyl to two high school students. The students shared a pill with a friend at school who died after ingesting it.

On March 15th, U.S Customs and Border Patrol agents at the Port of Nogales in Arizona confiscated more than 130,000 fentanyl tablets hidden under food in a crock pot.

An Arizona Department of Public Safety trooper and a Border Patrol agent found 36 pounds of fentanyl pills during a traffic stop on I-10 near Marana.

CBP in Arizona reported finding 130,000 pills hidden under food in this crockpot.

A man in Las Vegas, Nevada  was charged with second-degree murder and drug trafficking for allegedly selling the fentanyl pills that killed Shane Bowman in February 2021.

A second Las Vegas man is also facing second-degree murder charges. He allegedly provided the fentanyl that led to the death of a mother and son, Misty Turner and Andrew White, in August 2021, but denied knowing the pills contained fentanyl.

In the Pacific West

Heroin, counterfeit pills, and cash seized in the course of the Oregon operation. (Image: DEA)

The U.S. Attorney's Office in the District of Oregon indicted 12 people who allegedly trafficked methamphetamine, heroin and fentanyl pills from Mexico to Washington State and Oregon. Law enforcement seized approximately 115,000 counterfeit M30 pills suspected to contain fentanyl, 41 pounds of methamphetamine, and more than 57 pounds of heroin.

Portland, Oregon mother Kerry Cohen spoke about the death of her 16-year-old son Griffin Hoffman, who was one of two McDaniel High School students who died after taking counterfeit prescription pills on March 6th and 7th. The other student was 17-year-old Olivia Coleman.

A man in Salem, Oregon was charged with running a ghost gun operation from his mother’s house, and distributing counterfeit pills made of fentanyl in exchange for other guns.

Bakersfield resident Wilfredo Medina-Perez received a 10-year-and-five-month prison sentence for drug distribution. He sold more than 8,0000 counterfeit pills made with fentanyl and a pound of methamphetamine to an undercover agent between December 2018 and November 2019.

Uriel Ivan Portillo received a three-year-and-four-month prison sentence for dealing fentanyl. Portillo sold 5,000 counterfeit oxycodone pills made with fentanyl during a controlled purchase in Bakersfield, California in November 2019.

A Bakersfield, California woman who allegedly failed to call 911 when her 9-month-old son collapsed from fentanyl poisoning is facing drug distribution and felony child cruelty charges. She told police that she was being forced to sell Percocet pills, and didn’t know that they contained fentanyl.

Border Patrol agents at the El Centro Sector, in California arrested a 28-year-old man who was smuggling 71 pounds of narcotics, including more than five pounds of fentanyl pills through an immigration checkpoint.

Police in Ketchikan, Alaska charged five people with attempting to smuggle illicit drugs, including 1,400 counterfeit pills thought to contain fentanyl, from Washington State into Southeast Alaska.