June 5, 2023: NJ Doctor who Sold an Industrial Chemical as a Weight Loss Drug Sentenced.

This week: William Merlino, whose weight loss products killed a U.K. man, will serve almost 3 years in prison. The U.S. imposed sanctions on pill press makers in China and New Mexico. Regulators have found more counterfeit semaglutide—this time in Australia. Prosecutions and pill and pill press seizures in 24 states.

National News

A retired physician will be jailed for selling a dangerous chemical as a weight loss drug. The Treasury Department sanctioned pill press sellers in Mexico and China. Fake online pharmacy news.

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An 85-year-old retired physician in Mays Landing, New Jersey, received a 33-month prison sentence for selling misbranded drugs and obstruction of justice. William Merlino used Twitter and eBay to distribute DNP, an industrial chemical, as a weight loss drug to hundreds of online customers, one of whom died after using his product. Merlino, who suggested at his sentencing that his prosecution was motivated by pharmaceutical companies protecting their profits, faked a pancreatic cancer diagnosis to avoid trial. Merlino is the sixth person to be sentenced at the federal level for selling DNP for weight loss since 2016.  The chemical can cause dehydration, cataracts, liver damage, and death.

The U.S. Treasury Department imposed sanctions on nine people and eight companies in China and Mexico for selling pill press machines and other equipment that enables the production of counterfeit pills that contain fentanyl and other dangerous substances.

The House of Representatives passed the HALT Fentanyl Act, which would permanently place fentanyl-related substances in schedule one of the Controlled Substances Act. Fentanyl-related substances are scheduled through a temporary order that must be periodically renewed. The current order will expire on December 31, 2024.

Adam K. Sloan, a businessman in Lexington, Kentucky, pleaded guilty to importing and selling hundreds of thousands of counterfeit 3M N95 masks during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic.

On May 22, 2023, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration warned Citypharma.us to stop violating the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act by selling unapproved benzodiazepines, opioids and stimulants to U.S. patients without a prescription.

The Pharmaceutical Security Institute and Brandshield Systems announced that they had removed over 7,500 fraudulent pharmaceutical listings including medicines relating to cancer, HIV, type 2 diabetes, and more between January 2022 and January 2023.

Family advocates in Illinois, Kansas, Michigan, New Jersey, Oklahoma, Oregon, Texas, Virginia and Washington spoke about the dangers of fentanyl, sharing stories about loved ones who died after taking counterfeit pills.

International News

Counterfeit weight loss drugs in Australia

Australia’s Therapeutic Goods Administration warned that counterfeit semaglutide is being illegally imported into the country, and that two products the agency had tested did not contain semaglutide. Fake versions of these diabetes and weight loss products have also been found in Ireland, Azerbaijan, Egypt, Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon, Turkey, Uzbekistan, Russia and Nigeria.

Nigeria's NAFDAC issued a warning about counterfeit Ozempic in May 2023.


Sentencings and pleas related to counterfeit pill deaths in Texas, Oregon, California and Wyoming. More cases involving counterfeit pill trafficking in 21 states and the District of Columbia.

Jean Claude Meama-Kajue of Cedar Park, Texas received a 20-year prison sentence for selling counterfeit oxycodone made with fentanyl to a man who died after taking it in December 2020.

Another Austin-area man, David Lee Jr. pleaded guilty to distributing counterfeit oxycodone and other fake prescription pills that were linked to the death of an 18-year-old from Coupland. Pills that Lee sold to an undercover officer contained fentanyl, tramadol and fluorofentanyl.

Yamhill County, Oregon resident Scott Keeling received an eight-year prison sentence for supplying a street level dealer named Dylan Wilson with the counterfeit pills made with fentanyl that killed 15-year-old Marie Prine in July 2021.

Another Oregon dealer, Karen Elizabeth Comfort, received a six-and-a-half year sentence for selling the fentanyl pills that killed 17-year-old Cedar McMichael of Portland in 2020 and 25-year-old Cody McMahon of Hillsboro in 2021.

Timothy Clark Wolfe pleaded guilty to selling three counterfeit oxycodone pills made with fentanyl to 19-year-old Atascadero, California resident Emilio Velci, who died after taking just one pill. The transaction was arranged on Snapchat.

Jamie Lee Grabski pleaded guilty in Washakie County District Court to delivery of a controlled substance after he allegedly sold a woman in Worland, Wyoming the fentanyl pills that killed her in 2022.

Toys and fentanyl pills seized in Sacramento, May 2023.

Flower Mound, Texas resident Stephen Paul Brinson pleaded guilty to drug distribution charges for distributing thousands of counterfeit oxycodone pills across North Texas using an Instagram account. According to court documents, 18-year-old Brinson supplied other area dealers linked to teen drug poisonings.

Federal officials in Sacramento, California charged five people in connection with a drug trafficking ring that allegedly have mailed more than a million fentanyl-laced oxycodone pills, some of them hidden in children’s dolls and toys, to buyers in Alaska, California, Louisiana, Maryland, Michigan, Mississippi, Montana, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, South Dakota, and Virginia.

People were also convicted or sentenced in drug trafficking cases involving counterfeit pills made with fentanyl in Tempe, Arizona; Auburn and Lodi, California; Atchison, Kansas; Salem, Massachusetts; Richfield, Minnesota; Plattsmouth, Nebraska; Deer Park, New York; McAlester, Oklahoma; Houston and Lake Worth, Texas; and Caspar, Wyoming.

People were charged with selling counterfeit pills made with fentanyl that led to illness or fatalities in Millcreek, Pennsylvania; Tyler, Texas and Washington D.C.


Large pill seizures in Arizona and California. A pill press operation dismantled in New York. Additional seizures in 5 states.

Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officers seized almost 1.3 million fentanyl pills and approximately 10 pounds of fentanyl powder and heroin in four seizures at the Port of Nogales in Arizona.

Troopers with the Arizona Department of Public Safety seized 230 pounds of fentanyl pills and 10 pounds of cocaine during a traffic stop on Interstate 19 near Amado.

On May 18 and 19, 2023 CBP officers at California’s San Ysidro and Calexico ports of entry seized over 221 pounds of fentanyl pills from several vehicles.

Law enforcement seized three pill presses, a commercial mixer, approximately 200,000 pills, and blocks, baggies, and buckets of powder from a residential building in the Washington Heights neighborhood of Manhattan, New York.

Pills seized during the bust of a pill press operation in Manhattan, New York, May 2023.

There were also counterfeit pill seizures in Ventura, California; Garfield County, Colorado; Fort Hall, Idaho; Owensboro, Kentucky and Baton Rouge, Louisiana.