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Illegal Pharmacy Sent Fake Pills to U.S.

March 4, 2005

A covert laboratory in San Juan deTibás, north of San José, manufacturedfalse cholesterol-lowering medicine,copying the name-brand Lipitor by Pfizer,and sold it in the United States to unwittingpatients.Sales during the past two years totaledmore than $8 million, according to thedaily La Nación and confirmed by EFEnewswire.According the investigation, the laboratorymanufactured 20 million pills and waspart of an international organization thatoperated here and in Brazil, perhaps earningas much as $25 million between them.“Distribution in this country began atthe beginning of 2003 and was investigatedafter patients complained to the pharmaceuticalcompany Pfizer that the producthad a very bitter taste,” La Naciónreported.Lipitor has been sold since 1998 andin the United States alone more than 18million people have used it. In 2002, thepill sales reaped more than $7 billion forPfizer, which has exclusive rights to theproduct until 2009.The operation here was managed byseven people, according to the U.S. Foodand Drug Administration (FDA), includingthree Costa Ricans and three U.S. citizens,one a nationalized Cuban with a U.S. criminalrecord for cocaine trafficking, identifiedby the last name Cruz, and two withthe last names González and Fernández.Cruz and González were arrested inMiami. Cruz accepted the charges andwas sentenced in January to 11 years inprison. Fernández fled and is sought bythe International Police (INTERPOL).The Costa Rican Prosecutor forMiscellaneous Crimes opened an investigationfor the alleged infraction of thelaw of inventors’ property rights on thethree Costa Ricans, whose last names areUmaña, Jara and Ramírez, according toauthorities.The operation began in Costa Ricawith a $3 million investment in equipment,La Nación reported. When themoney was transferred from the UnitedStates, the Costa Rican Drug Institutenoted it as a suspicious transaction.The pills entered the United Statesthrough Miami’s international airport,where they were routed to a wholesalebuyer in Kansas City.“The history of the sale of the medicinewas falsified and payment for it wasmade indirectly in order to cover where itcame from,” FDA agent Stephen Holt said.The FDA’s Department of CriminalInvestigations first made the report.“The document, from Aug. 4 (2004),was sent the Chief Prosecutor’s Office inCosta Rica and to the JudicialInvestigation Police (OIJ),” policespokesman Francisco Ruiz said.

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