US, state law offices announce 'takedown' of national drug theft ring

Case involves the $75-million Eli Lilly heist in 2010, as well as multiple cargo truck thefts in 2009 and 2010

The infamous midnight theft of more than $75 million worth of Eli Lilly drugs in Enfield, CT might be close to resolution. Investigations of that theft revealed a flurry of cargo heists in Pennsylvania, Tennessee and Florida; the FBI estimates that over $100 million, including the Enfield heist, is involved. An 18-count indictment was handed down on May 3 in Florida, targeting 11 defendants; at the same time, an indictment for one of the Florida defendants and his brother was handed down in Connecticut, and an indictment for a group of 12, including four from the Florida case, came out of New Jersey.

To the possible relief of everyone involved in drug distribution, it appears that all or nearly all of the drugs stolen have been recovered. The Lilly theft included Zyprexa, Cymbalta, Gemzar and Prozac; other thefts for which the ring is charged included Remicade, Advair and alprazolam. According to David Fein, US Attoney in Connecticut, most of the stash had been found in a storage facility in Doral, FL, in October.

Both the Enfield heist, and the details of the indictments, read like the script of a Hollywood action movie. The Connecticut indictment alleges that brothers Amed and Amaury Villa, from Florida, led a group that first cased the Enfield facility, then cut through the roof and loaded 49 pallets of drugs onto a rented tractor-trailer. In Florida, a coordinated investigation, called Operation Southern Hospitality, of the FBI, DEA, the Bureau of Alcohol, Firearms and Tobacco, the Miami-Dade Police Dept. and the Florida Highway Patrol tracked the gang. New Jersey FBI and local police used confidential informants, wiretaps and video surveillance to monitor parking lot handoffs of stolen drugs.

The gang is accused of handling drugs from multiple cargo thefts or warehouse burglaries: the “Sandoz load” (December 2009 in Chambersburg, PA); the “Mylan load” (September 209 in Tampa, FL); the “Bayer load” (March 2009 in Olive Branch, MS) and the “Perrigo load” (March 2010 in Dallas), and a GSK warehouse theft in Richmond, VA, among others. OTC and beauty products have also been stolen and are alleged to be brokered by the ring. (However, the indictments do not charge the defendants with the actual thefts.)

Florida US Attorney Wifredo A. Ferrer stated, “These defendants moved truckloads and pallets of stolen pharmaceuticals from other states to South Florida for storage and ultimate sale. Along the way, they transported and handled these medications without any regard whatsoever for their proper storage and care, and — worse yet – with a callous disregard for the safety and health of the ultimate consumer who might buy and use these drugs, unaware of their questionable past. But, thanks to the outstanding efforts of the agents and officers involved in this multi-state investigation, these potentially altered and unsafe medications have been removed from the streets.”

The penalties for the crimes are up to five years in prison for controlled-substance and conspiracy charges, and up to 10 years prison for sale or possession of stolen goods.

Cargo thefts have been a constant for years, but the targeting of pharmaceutical shipments, and the distribution center burglaries, were a new thing in the late 2000s. After the Enfield heist, many pharma distributors significantly stiffened their protections for storage and transportation; and cargo thefts have been on the decline, but the costs of this crime prevention have been substantial.