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Intellectual Property Rights

Counterfeit drug distributor sentenced to prison

HOUSTON - A Dallas man was sentenced to a year in prison on Wednesday for conspiring to distribute counterfeit pharmaceuticals, and trafficking in pharmaceuticals bearing false labeling and counterfeit trademarks. The sentence was announced by U.S. Attorney José Angel Moreno, Southern District of Texas. The case was jointly investigated by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and the Food and Drug Administration's (FDA) Office of Criminal Investigations.

Richard Fletcher, 57, of Dallas, Texas, was sentenced to 12 months in prison by U.S. District Judge Lee Rosenthal for each of the two counts of conviction which are to be served concurrently. Additionally, the court ordered Fletcher to serve a three-year-term of supervised release during which he must pay $50,631 in restitution to the pharmaceutical companies. Fletcher previously pleaded guilty to the federal charges in March 2009.

A joint undercover investigation by ICE and FDA's Office of Criminal Investigations was initiated in October 2007. The investigation established that Fletcher used the Internet to obtain and distribute counterfeit Viagra, Cialis and Levitra pharmaceutical drugs. These FDA-approved prescription drugs are used to treat erectile dysfunction, and are registered trademarks on the principal register in the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. Viagra, Cialis and Levitra are manufactured and distributed exclusively by Pfizer Pharmaceuticals, Eli Lilly, and Bayer Corporation, respectively.

Via an Internet site, Fletcher offered Viagra tablets for $1 each, Cialis tablets for $1.20 each, and Levitra tablets for $1.40 each. The retail cost for these drugs is $11, $11.75 and $13, respectively. In response to inquiries from undercover agents regarding the quality of the tablets, Fletcher responded that the pills looked just like the original, including imprints on the pills and branded packaging. Undercover ICE agents purchased about 2,000 Viagra tablets and about 500 Cialis tablets from Fletcher over the Internet on Feb. 11, 2008, May 15, 2008 and June 18, 2008. Packaging containing the pharmaceuticals indicated the drugs were exported from China and also contained Fletcher's Dallas address. The pharmaceuticals were later analyzed by the trademark holders and FDA's Forensic Chemistry Center, and determined to be counterfeit.

Agents executed a search warrant on Fletcher's Internet site and confirmed Fletcher obtained the counterfeit pharmaceuticals from China, and engaged in discussions with Chinese individuals regarding techniques to evade detection and seizure by law enforcement officials. Fletcher also used alternate shipping routes such as Canada and Mexico.

During the investigation, agents received information from U.S. Customs and Border Protection that a package addressed to Fletcher at his Dallas address contained 960 tablets of counterfeit Viagra tablets had been discovered and seized at a mail facility in San Francisco, Calif. The counterfeit Viagra and Cialis tablets obtained as a result of the investigation are valued at more than $46,000.

In handing down the sentence, Judge Rosenthal admonished Fletcher for putting the public at risk by distributing counterfeit pharmaceuticals that were potentially harmful. Fletcher has been permitted to remain free on bond pending the issuance of an order to surrender to a Bureau of Prison's facility to be designated in the near future.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Samuel Louis, Southern District of Texas, prosecuted this case.