LOS ANGELES — A former Korean law enforcement officer who now lives in Los Angeles was arrested Wednesday by federal agents for allegedly attempting to smuggle nearly 40,000 counterfeit erectile dysfunction pills into the United States through Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) concealed in his golf bag and luggage.
Kil Jun Lee, 71, was taken into custody Wednesday morning by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement's (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) special agents at his Los Angeles apartment. He is charged in a criminal complaint with trafficking in counterfeit goods. Lee is expected to make his initial appearance in federal court Wednesday afternoon. The case is being prosecuted by the U.S. Attorney's Office for the Central District of California.
Lee's arrest comes after U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officers at LAX discovered more than $700,000 worth of phony erectile dysfunction pills in his luggage when he returned from a trip to Korea Feb. 25. Specifically, the criminal complaint states that Lee's luggage contained 29,827 counterfeit Viagra tablets, 8,993 counterfeit Cialis pills and 793 phony Levitra tablets, all concealed in aluminum foil wrapped packets. According to the complaint, when HSI special agents at LAX questioned Lee about whether the medication was for his personal use, he said if he used all of the pills it would kill him because he had a heart condition.
A subsequent analysis of some of the seized pills by CBP's Los Angeles-area forensics lab revealed that none of them matched the ingredients contained in the genuine products.
"When it comes to counterfeit pharmaceutical products, never has the expression 'buyer beware' been more true," said Claude Arnold, special agent in charge for HSI Los Angeles. "Part of what you're paying for when you buy established brands, regardless of the product, is quality control. Imposter drugs like these pose a serious threat to users who mistakenly assume these substances are safe."
"This case is another example of the dedication, training and keen perception of our officers at LAX," said CBP's Director of Los Angeles Field Operations Todd C. Owen. "Counterfeit medications pose a very real danger to our citizens, and thanks to our officers' vigilance, these pills will never reach the public."
In a separate case also worked by HSI and CBP, a Canoga Park man pleaded guilty in federal court Wednesday to using Craigslist to advertise and sell counterfeit erectile dysfunction drugs.
Barry Ronnel Johnson, 38, pleaded guilty to one count of trafficking and importing counterfeit goods. The charge carries a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison. In pleading guilty, Johnson admitted importing imposter erectile dysfunction pills from China and India, then using an advertisement on Craigslist to sell these pills.
The probe began after CBP officers at LAX intercepted a package in March 2011 containing more than 1,700 counterfeit pills that was being shipped to Johnson's home address. Subsequently, the defendant sold 30 blue diamond shaped tablets labeled "Filagra" to an HSI undercover special agent posing as a buyer on Craigslist.
HSI, CBP and the Department of Justice are working together to combat intellectual property crimes. In fiscal year 2011, CBP and HSI made nearly 25,000 seizures involving counterfeited and pirated products, a 24 percent increase compared to fiscal year 2010.
As the federal agency responsible for the management, control and protection of U.S. borders, CBP is on the frontline of intellectual property enforcement. The men and women of CBP protect our nation's economy, the safety of its people, and our national security against harm from counterfeit and pirated goods. The continued vigilance of CBP personnel protects United States citizens and businesses every day.
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 our streets, but also on dismantling the criminal organizations behind such illicit activity.