LOS ANGELES – A man who illegally imported the active ingredients used in erectile dysfunction drugs such as Viagra and Cialis and repackaged them for sale as “herbal” sexual enhancement products, pleaded guilty Wednesday to conspiring to bring the drugs into the U.S. through false statements.
Joseph Jinn, also known as Tzong Hwan Jinn, 60, of Diamond Bar, admitted in a plea agreement filed in federal court that he imported Tadalafil, Sildenafil, and Dapoxetine – the active ingredients in pharmaceutical medications such as Viagra and Cialis – by falsely claiming to customs officials that the multi-kilogram shipments were “cooked powder and tools,” “Chinese bread baking mixture,” and other innocuous materials.
The case stems from a probe by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI), the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) Office of Criminal Investigations, the Los Angeles Police Department, and U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP).
While CBP was able to intercept some of the shipments – with a cumulative value of nearly $550,000 – the illegally imported drugs still entered the U.S. Jinn admitted in court that he and his co-conspirators repackaged and sold the drugs as an “herbal supplement sexual enhancer.” The products were sold in storefronts and over the internet without the necessary prescriptions required by the FDA, which had previously warned Jinn’s company it was engaged in illegal sales.
“These products were falsely and dangerously marketed as herbal supplements, when in truth they were unregulated prescription medications that are harmful to some people,” said acting U.S. Attorney Sandra R. Brown. “The scheme began with a smuggling operation, and the conduct continued with the distribution of supplements falsely labeled as natural and safe.”
The FDA has warned consumers about numerous over-the-counter products that claim to be “herbal,” but in fact contain hidden active ingredients. According to the plea agreement, the FDA “issued public warnings regarding these sexual supplements because they contain ingredients that can interact with other drugs in dangerous ways and may lower blood pressure to unsafe levels.”
“The FDA oversees the production and sale of prescription drugs to ensure that they are safe and effective,” said Lisa L. Malinowski, special agent in charge of the FDA Office of Criminal Investigations, Los Angeles Field Office. “Criminals who attempt to sell medicines outside of FDA’s oversight put the health of U.S consumers at risk. Our office will continue to pursue and bring to justice those who endanger the public’s health.”
Jinn pleaded guilty before U.S. District Judge Christina A. Snyder, who scheduled a sentencing hearing for June 19. When he is sentenced, Jinn will face a statutory maximum sentence of five years in federal prison. As part of his plea agreement, Jinn agreed to forfeit to the U.S. approximately $105,000 that was seized from three bank accounts during the investigation.
The case against Jinn is being prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorneys Vicki Chou and Jennie L. Wang of the Cyber and Intellectual Property Crimes Section.