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Intellectual Property Rights

Dallas man convicted for distributing counterfeit pharmaceutical drugs

HOUSTON - A Dallas man was convicted Monday of conspiring to distribute counterfeit pharmaceuticals, and trafficking in pharmaceuticals bearing false labeling and counterfeit trademarks. Acting U.S. Attorney Tim Johnson, Southern District of Texas, announced this guilty plea; U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration's Office of Criminal Investigations (FDA) investigated this case.

Richard Fletcher, 57, of Dallas, Texas, pleaded guilty to both federal offenses at a hearing March 23 before U.S. District Judge Lee Rosenthal. Fletcher faces a maximum sentence of 10 years in federal prison, without parole, a $250,000 fine, and no more than three years of supervised release after the prison term at sentencing, which is set for June 23.

The investigation proved that Fletcher used the Internet to obtain and distribute counterfeit versions of Viagra®, Cialis® and Levitra® pharmaceutical drugs. These name-brand drugs are FDA-approved prescription drugs that are used to treat erectile dysfunction. Viagra is manufactured and distributed exclusively by Pfizer Pharmaceuticals. Cialis is manufactured and distributed exclusively by Eli Lilly. Levitra is manufactured and distributed exclusively by Bayer Corporation. Viagra, Cialis and Levitra are registered trademarks on the principal register in the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office.

The investigation began in October 2007. Fletcher was identified as the owner of an Internet website which offered Viagra tablets for $1 per tablet, Cialis for $1.20 each, and Levitra for $1.40 each. The retail cost for Viagra, Cialis and Levitra tablets range from $11 to about $13. In response to inquiries regarding the quality of the tablets, Fletcher indicated the pills looked just like the original with the brand-name imprint on the pill and counterfeit packaging.

Undercover ICE agents purchased about 2,000 Viagra tablets and about 500 Cialis tablets from Fletcher via the Internet on Feb. 11, May 15 and June 18, 2008. Packaging containing the pharmaceuticals indicated the drugs were exported from China and also contained Fletcher's Dallas address. The drugs were later analyzed by the trademark holders and the FDA's Forensic Chemistry Center, and determined to be counterfeit. Agents obtained a search warrant for the Internet website used by Fletcher and found proof that Fletcher had received counterfeit pharmaceuticals from China and discussed with individuals in China 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 (CBP) that a package containing 960 tablets of counterfeit Viagra tablets had been discovered and seized at a mail facility in San Francisco, Calif. The package was addressed to Fletcher and included his Dallas address. The counterfeit Viagra and Cialis tablets obtained as a result of the investigation are valued at more than $46,000.

Judge Rosenthal allowed Fletcher to remain free on bond pending his sentencing hearing.

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