JACKSON, Miss. - Special agents with the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) Office of Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) participated in the execution of more than 30 federal search warrants across Mississippi today in search of counterfeit pharmaceuticals.
The operation included members from the U.S. Attorney's Office - Northern and Southern districts in Mississippi, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the Mississippi Attorney General's Office. More than 100 federal, state and local agents executed the search warrants simultaneously throughout the state.
Between February and November 2010, numerous undercover purchases of illegal pharmaceuticals were made from convenience stores across the state. Among the products purchased were various prescription strength pain killers, antibiotics, birth control, supplements and other drugs not approved for sale in the United States.
"The smuggling of substandard, tainted or counterfeit products violates U.S. laws and regulations, and threatens public health and safety as well as the economic well being of the United States," said Raymond R. Parmer, Jr., special agent in charge of ICE HSI in New Orleans. "Our ability to work together across the federal government and with agencies around the world is a strong and appropriate response to a growing international threat - to keep these dangerous goods off the street and bring those responsible for producing and distributing them to justice."
ICE regularly carries out operations to target, interdict, and investigate substandard, tainted, and counterfeit products being imported into the United States that pose a health and safety risk to consumers. In addition to pharmaceuticals, other dangerous products include: counterfeit toothpaste containing anti-freeze; counterfeit drugs containing too little, too much, or none of the active ingredient at all; tainted animal food containing melamine, a product contained in plastics and cleaning products, countertops, glues, inks and fertilizers, that led to the death or injury of pets in U.S. households; counterfeit circuit breakers that could explode, cause fires, or otherwise fail; and, contaminated food products containing antibiotics that have been banned in food by the FDA.
"Unapproved, uncleared, or misbranded products pose a clear and present danger to the public health," said David W. Bourne, Special Agent in Charge of FDA's Office of Criminal Investigations Miami Field Office. "We will continue to join with our law enforcement counterparts to aggressively pursue those who place consumers at risk for their own financial gain."
"This is a key example of how Operation Knock Out Knock-Offs is working in Mississippi," said Attorney General Jim Hood. "By partnering with federal and local officials, we can help protect consumers from dangerous fakes."
Operation Knock Out Knock-Offs is a two phase effort funded in part through a federal grant. The first phase created the statewide task force, while the second phase focused on consumer and merchant education. During 2010, task force members have participated in several regional trainings, as well as statewide trainings. Operation Knock Out Knock-Offs will continue in 2011 with additional federal funding awarded in October. This additional funding will allow the Attorney General's Office to create the Mississippi Intellectual Property (IP) Crime Center System, a computerized database for Mississippi law enforcement agencies. The dedicated website will also provide the general public with information on the dangers of counterfeiting, as well as allow for confidential reporting of suspected counterfeiting.
"We are just getting started," said Hood. "Counterfeiters are on notice that we mean business."