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Houston man pleads guilty to smuggling and trafficking counterfeit pharmaceuticals

HOUSTON — A local man pleaded guilty Tuesday to smuggling and trafficking counterfeit and misbranded pharmaceuticals, including Viagra tablets, from China.

This guilty plea was announced by Acting Assistant Attorney General David A. O'Neil of the Justice Department's Criminal Division, and U.S. Attorney Kenneth Magidson, Southern District of Texas.

This investigation was conducted by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement's (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI), the Food and Drug Administration's Office of Criminal Investigations, the Diplomatic Security Service, and police departments in Houston and Chicago, Illinois.

Nasif Baqla, 26, of Houston, pleaded guilty before U.S. District Judge Nancy F. Atlas in the Southern District of Texas to one count of conspiracy to traffic in counterfeit goods, to introducing misbranded prescription drugs into interstate commerce, and to importing such goods contrary to U.S. law.

"This conviction is the culmination of a multi-agency effort to prevent illegal and potentially harmful counterfeit pharmaceuticals from being smuggled and distributed into the United States," said Moskowitz. "These intellectual property- (IP) related crimes remind us of the potential public safety hazards posed by IP thieves who care more about their profits than people."

Baqla was indicted Aug. 22, 2012. Two other individuals were indicted the same day in separate, but related cases: Jamal Khattab, 49, of Katy, Texas, and Fayez Al-Jabri, 45, of Chicago. Khattab and Al-Jabri pleaded guilty Dec. 3, 2013, and March 21, 2014, respectively. They pleaded guilty to the same conspiracy charge as Baqla. They also pleaded guilty to trafficking in counterfeit goods and introducing counterfeit drugs into interstate commerce, in violation of the Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act.

According to court documents, in July 2010, a package of counterfeit Viagra tablets was shipped from China to Houston, intended for Baqla and Khattab. The package was intercepted by U.S. Customs and Border Protection officers. Baqla claimed the pills were his and that he received them on behalf of a friend. Although the tablets were marked with trademarks substantially indistinguishable from the genuine marking on a legitimate Viagra pill, the drugs in the package were counterfeit and misbranded.

This case is being prosecuted by Assistant Deputy Chief for Litigation John Zacharia of the Criminal Division's Computer Crime and Intellectual Property Section and Assistant U.S. Attorney Kebharu Smith of the Southern District of Texas.