LOS ANGELES - A woman from Marina Del Rey, Calif., appeared in federal court here yesterday afternoon on a criminal complaint stemming from her alleged role in a scheme to sell Human Growth Hormone (HGH), counterfeit Botox, and "generic" Restylane over the Internet to spas across the country.
Rana J. Hunter, 60, was arrested Friday at her Marina Del Rey apartment by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents. According to the affidavit filed in the case, Hunter operated a business called Westgate Distributors which offered HGH, Botulinum toxin type A, marketed under the Allergan brand name Botox, and "generic" Restylane for sale over the Internet. Investigators determined some of Westgate's buyers were located as far away as Arkansas.
Hunter is charged in a criminal complaint with one count of illegally selling HGH. At yesterday's hearing, U.S. Magistrate Judge Fernando M. Olguin authorized her release on $65,000 bond pending trial. If convicted Hunter faces a maximum penalty of five years in prison and a $250,000 fine.
The investigation leading to Hunter's arrest began in March 2007 after ICE agents in Los Angeles received a lead from ICE's Cyber Crimes Center in Virginia. According to the case affidavit, during the ensuing probe, U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officers intercepted numerous packages containing vials of HGH and counterfeit Botox from China that were addressed to the Marina Del Rey mailbox listed on the Internet as Westgate's business address. The parcels were mislabeled variously as synthetic hair pieces, plastic molds and "sample iron oxide."
Within the last two months, an ICE undercover agent, posing as a supplier for clinics and spas, contacted the phone number listed for Westgate on the Internet. As described in the affidavit, the ICE undercover agent ultimately made two buys, including multiple vials of HGH and a substance purported to be Botox, along with syringes and needles. A subsequent laboratory analysis revealed the HGH was genuine, but the substance being sold as Botox contained no evidence of the Botulinum toxin.
"The illegal sale of health and pharmaceutical products over the Internet poses a serious risk to Americans who mistakenly assume these substances are safe," said Robert Schoch, special agent in charge of the ICE Office of Investigations in Los Angeles. "What's more, unscrupulous providers who buy these products and resell them are potentially putting their unwitting clients in harm's way."
"Our enforcement actions continue to pay off; we have an ongoing commitment that is focused towards intercepting commodities which may pose health and safety risks before they reach the consumer," said Kevin W. Weeks, director of the CBP Los Angeles Office of Field Operations.
ICE agents underscore the probe is ongoing. In addition to U.S. Customs and Border Protection, ICE received substantial assistance in the investigation from the U.S. Postal Inspections Service; the Food and Drug Administration - Office of Criminal Investigations; and the Social Security Administration - Office of Criminal Investigations.
The case is being prosecuted by the U.S. Attorney's Office for the Central District of California.