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October 23, 2023San Diego, CA, United StatesIntellectual Property Rights and Commercial Fraud

HSI San Diego, multiagency investigation results in sentence for Imperial Valley doctor who used unapproved cosmetic drugs

SAN DIEGO — An Imperial Valley doctor was sentenced in federal court Oct. 19 for crimes related to his years-long use of foreign unapproved and misbranded cosmetic drugs. Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) investigated this case with help from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s Office of Criminal Investigations, the FBI, and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Office of Inspector General.

According to court records, Tien Tan Vo, 47, of El Centro, injected as many as 178 patients with unapproved drugs that had been smuggled into the United States from Mexico.

“Today’s sentencing serves as our promise to use every tool to investigate and hold accountable those who deliberately smuggle and administer products that pose a significant public health threat,” said HSI San Diego Special Agent in Charge Chad Plantz. “HSI, together with the U.S. attorney’s office, will continue to work together to prosecute those individuals who deceive and threaten our communities.”

Magistrate Judge Allison H. Goddard sentenced Vo to three years of probation. She also ordered him to pay a $201,534 fine and forfeit the $100,767 in proceeds he made from his use of unlawful cosmetic drugs. A restitution hearing is set for Dec. 7 to finalize an order for restitution to potential victims.

In August, Vo pleaded guilty to two misdemeanor counts: receipt of misbranded drugs in interstate commerce and being an accessory after the fact to Flor Cham, who smuggled the unapproved drugs into the United States from Mexico. Cham is charged in Case Number 23-cr-01926-JLS.

In his plea agreement, Vo admitted that none of the injectable botulinum toxin or lip fillers used by his clinics between November 2016 and October 2020 were approved for use in the United States. This specifically included a botulinum toxin product called Xeomeen and an injectable lip filler called Probcel; neither has been approved by the FDA.

According to court papers, Vo used these unapproved drugs on approximately 178 patients over about four years. Many were never told that they received unapproved drugs as part of their treatment.

“The public faith in the FDA approval process relies on medical providers adhering to those rules,” said U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of California Tara McGrath. “By side-stepping the safety and approval protocols of the FDA, Dr. Vo compromised care and put profits before patients. But thanks to the hard work of the agencies and our federal restitution process, those ill-gained profits will be recovered in this case.”

“The FDA’s requirements help ensure that patients receive safe and effective medical treatments. Evading the FDA process and distributing unapproved drugs to U.S. consumers will not be tolerated,” said Special Agent in Charge Robert M. Iwanicki of the FDA’s Office of Criminal Investigations in Los Angeles. “We will continue to investigate and hold accountable those who traffic in unapproved drugs.”

Potential victims related to this case may provide or request information by emailing Individuals may submit written statements including information about potential losses or requests for refunds that may be included as part of the restitution ordered on Dec. 7.

HSI is the principal investigative arm of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS), responsible for investigating transnational crime and threats, specifically those criminal organizations that exploit the global infrastructure through which international trade, travel and finance move. HSI’s workforce of more than 8,700 employees consists of more than 6,000 special agents assigned to 237 cities throughout the United States, and 93 overseas locations in 56 countries. HSI’s international presence represents DHS’ largest investigative law enforcement presence abroad and one of the largest international footprints in U.S. law enforcement.