Puerto Rican convicted in international fake Viagra scam
CALIFORNIA, USA, Wednesday August 15, 2012 – Francis Ortiz Gonzalez faces up to 10 years behind bars after being found guilty on federal charges stemming from his role as an operative for a drug ring that distributed large quantities of Chinese-made counterfeit pharmaceuticals throughout the United States and around the world.
The 36-year-old Puerto Rican was convicted last week on one count of conspiracy and seven counts of trafficking in counterfeit pharmaceuticals. His sentencing is set for November 8 before US District Judge George Wu.
Ortiz’s wife, Ideliz Aleman-Valentin, and two other defendants were named in a 30-count indictment handed down by a grand jury in Los Angeles in June 2009. The jury that convicted Ortiz acquitted his wife.
Special agents with US Immigration and Customs Enforcement's (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) executed a federal search warrant at Ortiz's residence in Trujillo Alto, Puerto Rico, a suburb of San Juan, in 2009.
The agents found more than 100,000 bogus pills manufactured to resemble a variety of widely used prescription medications including Viagra, Cialis, Valium, Xanax and Lipitor.
Further investigation revealed that Ortiz had packaged and shipped more than 160,000 counterfeit tablets during a six-month period in 2009 while working for the drug ring. Many of those shipments went to Southern California where the case was brought to trial.
“The burgeoning popularity of e-commerce has led to an explosion in the number of websites offering prescription drugs online," said Claude Arnold, special agent for HSI in Los Angeles.
The resulting indictment alleged that Ortiz acted as US-based distributor for a criminal organization allegedly headed by Bo Jiang, a 34-year-old Chinese national whose last known residence was in New Zealand.
Bo Jiang was taken into custody on a provisional arrest warrant by authorities in New Zealand in January last year, but fled shortly after being released on bond. He remains a fugitive.
According to the indictment, Bo Jiang used the Internet to advertise the counterfeit pharmaceuticals. He allegedly recruited individuals from around the world to distribute the bogus products.
United States-based distributors, including Ortiz, received the shipments of counterfeit pharmaceuticals from China, then repackaged and mailed them to fill individual customer's orders throughout the United States.
The probe, which began in 2008, involved HSI Los Angeles, the Food and Drug Administration Office of Criminal Investigations, and the US Postal Inspection Service.
The Department of Homeland Security and the Department of Justice are working together to combat intellectual property crimes. In fiscal year 2011, HSI and US Customs and Border Protection made nearly 25,000 seizures involving counterfeited and pirated products, a 24 percent increase compared to fiscal year 2010.
As the largest investigative arm of the Department of Homeland Security, HSI plays a leading role in targeting criminal organizations responsible for producing, smuggling and distributing counterfeit products. HSI focuses not only on keeping counterfeit products off the streets, but also on dismantling the criminal organizations behind such illicit activity.