August 15, 2022: Retired doctor guilty of selling harmful industrial chemical as weight loss drug

This week: A New Jersey doctor was tried and convicted for illegally selling DNP as a supplement for weight loss. The FDA warned three companies to stop selling unapproved skin treatments. Mexico soldiers seized more than 800,000 fentanyl pills in the state of Sonora, which shares a border with Arizona. Counterfeit pills news includes cases with deaths in California, Louisiana, Minnesota, Virginia, and 17 additional stories about seizures and prosecutions in 13 states.

Despite DNP's dangers, scammers still promote the unapproved chemical. (Twitter post, July 2022)

85-year-old William Merlino, a retired doctor who lives in Mays Landing, New Jersey, was convicted of manufacturing and selling DNP, a toxic industrial chemical, as a weight-loss drug. Between November 2017 and March 2019, Merlino made approximately $54,000 selling the dangerous drug to customers in the U.S. Canada and the U.K. through Twitter, eBay and email.  Merlino is also facing obstruction of justice charges because he faked a diagnosis of pancreatic cancer to try to avoid prosecution.

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) declared DNP unfit for human consumption in 1938 because people taking it suffered from dehydration, cataracts, liver damage and death.

The FDA warned, Ariella Naturals and Justified Laboratories to stop selling mole and skin tag removal products that require FDA approval and have not been evaluated for safety, effectiveness, or quality.

Mexican soldiers seized almost 1.5 tons of meth, 328 pounds of suspected powdered fentanyl and 816,000 suspected fentanyl pills at a checkpoint in the northern state of Sonora, which shares a border with Arizona. Mexico’s defense department reported that it had received information that a truck carrying powdered fruit juice concentrates to the border city of Tijuana was also hauling drugs.

Counterfeit pills across the country

In the Northeast

A Hyannis, Massachusetts man was arrested on drug and firearms charges after he allegedly sold cocaine and pressed counterfeit Percocet pills made with fentanyl.

A man is facing federal drug charges after law enforcement pursuing an outstanding warrant in Massachusetts found 14 kilograms of fentanyl, a kilogram of cocaine, a pill press, and other drug paraphernalia in his Bronx, New York residence, which is located next to a day care center for infants and young children.

Arber Isaku and Vincent Decaro were sentenced to 51 months and 48 months, respectively, for making counterfeit oxycodone pills in Decaro’s Stamford, Connecticut home and selling them under the name East Coast Cartel Kings on the dark web. An April 2018 search of the house yielded pills made of fentanyl and acetyl fentanyl, instructions for making carfentanil, 40 grams of fentanyl powder, three pill presses and other drug paraphernalia. Learn more about the case, including an unexpected Albanian connection, by watching our June 2021 video.

Watch PSM's June 2021 video about this Stamford pill ring.

The Special Narcotics Prosecutor of the City of New York announced that the search of another Bronx apartment yielded 75,000 counterfeit pills believed to contain fentanyl, and more than 200 pounds of other illicit drugs.

In the South

The Charlotte County Sheriff’s Office reported that deputies recovered more than 30 pounds of drugs, including 447 suspected fentanyl pills, during the search of a home in Port Charlotte, Florida.

In Kentucky, the Madisonville Police Department concluded a drug investigation by arresting a man and seizing about 1,000 suspected fentanyl pills and about six ounces of suspected methamphetamine.

In Louisiana, St. Tammany Parish Sheriff’s Office arrested two adults in the counterfeit pill death of a 15-year-old teen in July 2022. One of the two people charged was related to the victim.

A resident of Frederick, Maryland will serve ten years of a 30-year prison sentence for fentanyl possession and illegal gun possession after the Frederick County Sheriff’s Office Narcotics Investigation Section found cash, firearms and illicit drugs, including over 500 counterfeit pills made with fentanyl in an apartment in March 2022 and a hotel room the following month.

A Greenville, South Carolina man was arrested after authorities found a large quantity of drugs, including more than 200 fentanyl pills, in a home near a school.

Shannon Doyle spoke about her daughter, Makayla Cox, a 16-year-old Virginia Beach resident who died after taking a counterfeit pill made with fentanyl in January 2022.

In the Midwest

A Mahtomedi, Minnesota resident was charged with murder in connection to a 17-year-old Oak Park Heights teen’s death in from fentanyl poisoning in May 2021. Court documents allege that he arranged for her to buy “Percs” from him on Snapchat.

Ezekiel Fernandez II of Highlands, Texas, received a 57-month prison sentence for possession with intent to distribute fentanyl. A Lancaster County (Nebraska) Sheriff’s deputy found $30,000 and a bag of blue fentanyl pills in his car during a traffic stop in May 2021.

In the Mountain West

Police in Phoenix, Arizona found $15,000 and 39,000 fentanyl pills when they searched a vehicle the first week of April.

The Pueblo County (Colorado) Sheriff’s Office reported that a woman had concealed more than 300 fentanyl pills on her person while they were booking her into the Pueblo County Jail.

53-year-old Brett Scheeler, of Gillette, Wyoming, received a 92-month federal prison sentence on August 4, 2022. He and a co-defendant were caught transporting ten pounds of meth and 7,100 fentanyl pills after a car chase with Campbell County police  in January 2022.

$15,000 and 39,000 fentanyl pills seized during the search of a vehicle, August 2022 (Phoenix Police)

In the Pacific West

PSM maintains pages to capture news about counterfeit medicine in every state in the U.S. See California's, or look up another state.

A news release about San Diego’s struggles with fentanyl trafficking reported that U.S. Customs and Border Protection in San Diego and Imperial counties seized 5,091 pounds of fentanyl— approximately 60% of the amount seized across the entire country— in the first nine months of fiscal year 2022, and that fentanyl-related overdose deaths in San Diego County increased almost 25 times, from 33 in 2016 to at least 817 in 2021.

The family of 16-year-old Santa Cruz, California resident Emma Lace Price filed suit against a 23-year-old Corralitos man and his parents after she died in his home. A separate criminal case alleges that the 23-year-old provided Price with counterfeit pills made with fentanyl that killed her in November 2021.

A 20-year-old California man was indicted on murder and felony drug charges for allegedly providing the counterfeit pills made with fentanyl that caused the June 2022 death of a 15-year-old Roseville child.

The Santa Barbara County Sheriff’s Office reported that a recent poly-drug bust in Santa Maria, California yielded 17,000 counterfeit fentanyl pills.

Isaiah Garcia, of Fresno, California, pleaded guilty to possession and distribution of fentanyl after investigators listening to telephone calls with his incarcerated brother, Mario, heard the men discussing fentanyl pill sales. Federal agents who searched Garcia’s residence found over 1,200 fentanyl pills in his bedroom.

Rapper Wayne Frisby aka ‘Mac Wayne,’ of Snohomish County, Washington received a six-year sentence for his role in a large drug trafficking ring that distributed heroin, methamphetamine, and fentanyl pills in Pierce, King, Snohomish, and Lewis Counties. Over the course of the investigation law enforcement seized 35,000 suspected fentanyl pills, hundreds of pounds of other illicit drugs, 24 firearms, approximately $525,000 in cash, and a bank account valued at $100,000.

A federal jury convicted 31-year-old Kendall Alston of Seattle, Washington of three federal crimes related to selling fentanyl pills. Seattle Police Officers caught him with 244 fentanyl pills and a semi-automatic handgun when he was arrested for street dealing in March 2022.

A federal grand jury indicted a 34-year-old Toppenish, Washington resident for allegedly selling fentanyl pills in the Yakima area.