March 28–April 4, 2022: DoJ probes alleged HIV drug counterfeiting network

Lately there has been A LOT of counterfeit medicine news. Watch our two-minute summary for a quick review.

Over the last two weeks, the Wall Street Journal reported on the Justice Department’s investigation of the alleged counterfeit HIV drug network that Gilead Sciences discovered in 2020. A New Jersey couple pleaded guilty to selling bodybuilding products and counterfeit prescription drugs. International stories touched on rogue pharmacy websites in Indonesia, counterfeit antibiotics in the Philippines, counterfeit stimulants in Syria, and the fight against counterfeit drugs in Gabon. Finally, there were more than 40 additional stories across 20 states involved fentanyl and other substances pressed into counterfeit pills.

In this ninety second video, twenty-year HIV survivor Brandon Macsata talks about the specific steps you can take to protect yourself from counterfeit medicines. Keep up with the most recent news on fake HIV drugs here

According to The Wall Street Journal, the Justice Department is investigating an alleged drug counterfeiting network that sold diverted and counterfeit HIV medicines to U.S. pharmacies starting in 2020. The investigation includes the distribution of Gilead Sciences products which are already the subject of 2021 lawsuit, as well as medicines made by Johnson & Johnson and GlaxoSmithKline.

Sylvia and Keith Kovaleski of South Amboy, New Jersey pleaded guilty to conspiring to distribute misbranded and unapproved new drugs. Their company, All American Peptide, sold prescription drugs, including tadalafil capsules manufactured in their basement; SARMS and peptides, which bodybuilders use as an alternative to steroids; and other drugs.

Port Angeles, Washington naturopath Richard Marschall received an eight-month federal prison sentence for selling products that he falsely claimed could prevent serious diseases, including COVID-19. This is his third conviction since 2011.

A collaborative project between BrandShield and the Pharmaceutical Security Institute (PSI) led to the removal of 850 rogue online pharmacy websites and 18,000 fraudulent e-commerce and social media posts between December 2020 and November 2021. The listings, which were predominantly in Indonesia, contained medicines for cancer, diabetes, asthma, COVID-19, and Alzheimer's, among others.

Agents in the Philippines arrested two Chinese nationals who allegedly sold counterfeit medicines, including Amoxicillin capsules, from their stores in Mandaue City.

Kurdish security forces in Syria seized 2.5 million Captagon pills concealed in construction materials. Almost 50 million of the pills, which are made to look like a discontinued brand of the stimulant fenethylline, have been seized since January 2022.

A recent article in the European Union’s ENACT Observer discussed the fight against counterfeit medicines in the African country of Gabon, where the government has reported three major actions against counterfeit pharmaceuticals since January 2020.

Counterfeit pills across the country

In the Northeast

The Manhattan District Attorney’s Office says a former Goldman Sachs employee and New York City party producer laundered more than $2.3 million in Bitcoin between 2018 and 2021. His clients included drug dealers who sold counterfeit Xanax on the dark web.

A federal grand jury in New Haven, Connecticut indicted two Hartford residents for drug distribution after court-authorized searches yielded 32,000 fentanyl pills, kilogram quantities of fentanyl powder, and other illicit drugs.

Two Rhode Island men are facing drug trafficking charges after a search of one of their homes turned up marijuana plants, two pill presses, and more than 50,000 counterfeit oxycodone pills suspected to contain fentanyl.

In Massachusetts, 25-year-old Diamondez Pierre of Boston pleaded guilty to possession with intent to distribute about 200 pressed fentanyl pills disguised as oxycodone in August 2020.

A 32-year-old Lawrence resident was charged with distributing counterfeit prescription pills made with fentanyl after law enforcement found approximately 100,000 suspected fentanyl pills, an industrial pill press and “M” and “30” pill stamps in his apartment.

A 25-year-old in Lowell is facing drug trafficking charges after police said they found him in possession of nearly 400 fake Adderall pills that tested positive for methamphetamine.

Detectives with the Foxboro Police Department arrested three suspects after seizing a pill press from the motel room where they allegedly made fake Percocet

Equipment and drugs seized in Lawrence in March 2022. (Image: Westford Police Department)

In the South

Police detectives in Port St. Lucie, Florida arrested a 40-year-old who allegedly sold counterfeit pills made with fentanyl.

A 40-year-old Fort Worth,Texas man was charged with three counts of possession with intent to distribute fentanyl, after he sold 600 fentanyl pills to a DEA informant.

Police in Austin, Texas arrested two people after they found more than a pound of pills that tested positive for fentanyl in their car.

A police officer in Roland, Oklahoma seized 40,000 fentanyl pills during a traffic stop.

The sheriff’s department in Sumter County, South Carolina reported seizing a pill press machine and almost 50 pounds of illicit drugs, including fentanyl pills, on March 11th.

Horry County Police seized more than a pound-and-a-half of fentanyl pills from a home in Myrtle Beach, North Carolina.

Zachary Ryan Hutton of Marion, Virginia pleaded guilty to possession with the intent to distribute fentanyl. In 2021, Hutton ordered 30,000 fake oxycodone pills from a supplier in California and sold them in southwest Virginia.

In the Midwest

36-year-old Thomas Anthony Walker, Jr., of Akron, Ohio, received a 62-month sentence after pleading guilty to attempting to possess and distribute 655 fentanyl pills disguised as oxycodone.

Police in Lorain, Ohio reported the seizure of fentanyl pills disguised as Tylenol and counterfeit metoprolol, a blood pressure medication, made of pressed cocaine.

Ethan Everley, a high school sophomore in Kansas City, Missouri died on March 29th after taking a pill with a lethal dose of fentanyl.

The DEA’s Omaha Division reported that 100,000 counterfeit pills had been seized in the state of Nebraska since the beginning of 2022.

Fentanyl disguised as Tylenol found in Ohio, March 2022. (Image: Lorain Police Department)

In the Mountain West

Reyes Luis Holguin of Phoenix, Arizona, will pay $6,000 in restitution to the family of a woman who died of fentanyl poisoning after she took pills he supplied in August 2019. Holguin will also serve a 10-year prison sentence.

Missoula, Montana resident Janie Mann shared the story of her 18-year-old daughter, Tasia, who died in June 2021 after taking a counterfeit Percocet pill that contained fentanyl.

Fentanyl and pressed pills have had a devastating impact in the U.S.. Learn how the trade has changed since 2015.

In Billings, Montana, Elizabeth Ardelle Grace Ronshaugen pleaded guilty to possession with intent to distribute controlled substances after law enforcement found 9,616 fentanyl pills and other drugs in a vehicle she was in during a traffic stop near Buffalo, Wyoming. Co-defendant ​​Eric Charles Swan also pleaded guilty and awaits sentencing.

Jesus Zamora-Cuevas pleaded guilty to firearm and immigration crimes after he was caught with fentanyl pills and methamphetamine in Glacier County, Montana in January.

Two men in Pocatello, Idaho were charged after officers found about four pounds of meth and 4,000 suspected M30 fentanyl pills in their SUV during a traffic stop on Interstate 15 just south of Inkom.

Law enforcement in Gillette, Wyoming found eight pounds of meth and more than 1,000 suspected fentanyl pills in their car during a traffic stop.

In an article about fentanyl deaths in Wyoming,Tammy O’Grady shared the story of her son, Tanner Wirfel, who died after taking pills laced with fentanyl in October 2021.

DEA agents in Las Vegas, Nevada and members of the Tulare County High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area program arrested four Californians who allegedly sold bulk quantities of methamphetamine and suspected fentanyl pills.

In Colorado, Matt Riviere, Aretta Gallegos and Andrea Thomas, all of whom lost children to fentanyl pills, shared their children’s stories at a news conference in Colorado’s state capital. They asked lawmakers to include funding for investigations into fentanyl deaths in upcoming legislation to address the fentanyl crisis.

Loveland resident Bradley Frost pleaded guilty to three felony drug charges and one misdemeanor drug charge in three court cases filed against him. Frost was one of eight men arrested in connection with a Northern Colorado Drug Task Force investigation that yielded, among other things, 4,500 fentanyl pills, and 12 pounds of methamphetamine.

Aretta Gallegos spoke about her daughter, who died of fentanyl poisoning, during a March 2022 press conference at the Colorado State Capitol. (Timothy Hurst/The Denver Gazette)

New court documents revealed details about the investigation of a Longmont man who allegedly provided the counterfeit oxycodone pills made with fentanyl that killed Valetta Kroeger in Lafayette on March 19, 2020.

The Eagle County Sheriff’s Office reported that a baggie of oxycodone pills commonly made with fentanyl were found on a playground in Gypsum.

17-year-old Tai Burns died of suspected fentanyl poisoning in his Highlands Ranch home on March 29th. Investigators found blue M30 pills at the scene.

In the Pacific West

In Oregon, the Medford Police Department warned that it seized 30,193 fake pills made with fentanyl in the first three months of 2022, almost triple the volume seized in all of 2021.

Police in Grants Pass, Oregon, the Rogue Area Drug Enforcement team and the Medford Area Drug Gang Enforcement team arrested a man for possession with intent to distribute illicit drugs, including 5,030 fentanyl pills.

Police in Ellensburg, Washington arrested a 36-year-old resident after a search of her home and vehicle yielded 2,000 fentanyl pills.

Whitman County deputies seized 500 fentanyl pills, heroin and a white powdery substance during a traffic stop in Colfax, Washington.

15,000 fentanyl pills, nine guns and $3,600 seized as part of the largest fentanyl bust in Humboldt County, California's history. (Image: Humboldt County Drug Task Force)

In California, the U.S. Attorney’s Office in the Eastern District of California charged 18 alleged drug traffickers, including the self-proclaimed “M30 King of Fresno,” with distributing fentanyl pills and powder, cocaine, and methamphetamine. An investigation into a series of fentanyl-pill deaths in the Fresno area yielded 55,000 M30 fentanyl pills, 17 pounds of other illicit drugs, and 25 firearms.

Chula Vista resident Jonathan Mefford received an almost 16-year federal prison sentence for knowingly selling fentanyl-laced pills that caused Jake Palet's death in October 2018. Mefford also admitted distributing multi-pound level quantities of methamphetamine in Kansas.

A federal judge sentenced 24-year-old Jonathon Cortez, of Fresno, to five years in prison for conspiring to distribute hundreds of fentanyl pills.

The Humboldt County Drug Task Force raided three locations — two in Eureka and one in Arcata — and confiscated 15,000 fentanyl pills, $3,600 and nine firearms. It's the largest fentanyl bust in the county’s history.

Special Agents from the DEA and investigators assigned to the Ventura County Combined Agency Team arrested seven Camarillo residents who allegedly trafficked methamphetamine and fake oxycodone pills made with fentanyl into Ventura County. Officers seized approximately 50,000 fentanyl pills and 45 pounds of methamphetamine on the day of the arrests.

21-year-old Bakersfield resident Adrian Rodriguez Cardenas pleaded guilty to conspiracy to distribute fentanyl after he and 27-year-old Keisean Rockmore sold an undercover police officer counterfeit oxycodone pills made with fentanyl on two occasions. Rockmore pleaded guilty in February 2022.

Kern County Probation Department Officers arrested four men after they found guns, drugs—including 500 fentanyl pills—and $26,000 cash during the search of a Bakersfield home.

Border Patrol agents in the El Centro Sector arrested a man after he tried to smuggle heroin, methamphetamine, and fentanyl pills through an immigration checkpoint.

Police in Pacific Grove arrested a 19-year-old from Monterey and a 17-year-old from Seaside for possession of suspected fentanyl pills.

Three people in Marina survived fentanyl poisoning after ingesting what they thought were Percocet pills.