The lucrative international scam targeted the most ordinary of household necessities–flea and tick medication for pets.
The latest break in the wide-ranging counterfeit investigation came this week when a California vendor admitted to a federal judge he had been peddling unregistered and smuggled animal pesticides online for 15 years, landing $2.5 million in profits.
The medical con, with links to Houston and Galveston, included conspirators in Europe, Africa, the Caribbean and the U.S. who dumped fake merchandise onto unsuspecting proprietors at mainstream pet shops in every state, according to federal authorities and court documents.
Seven men have now owned up to their involvement and entered guilty pleas in federal courts in Houston and Los Angeles, but one alleged major supplier remains an international fugitive believed to be in the Cayman Islands.
The anomaly in this take down was that fake products labeled with well known brand names, such as Frontline and Advantix, entered the legitimate pet pharmaceutical marketplace without detection, said Richard Halverson, Assistant Special Agent in Charge in Homeland Security’s Houston division. Halverson ran the investigation jointly with officials from the Houston office of the Food and Drug Administration’s criminal investigation branch.
“The products that these guys were selling ended up all over the U.S.,” he said. “We were seeing it penetrate the legitimate supply chain, on the web, but also big brand name stores had received some of this product.”
During a five-year investigation, Homeland Security officers seized $35 million in products of unknown origin with fake labels or products made for use in other countries that were not cleared for U.S. sales, Halverson said. He estimated there were also millions of dollars’ worth of products that investigators did not recover.
Philip Hilder, attorney for Lam Ngoc Tran, a California man, who was one of several fake packaging manufacturers convicted in the case, said the conspiracy was fueled by greed.
“Other than money, I don’t know what the motivation would be,” said Hilder, whose client is serving a four-year federal prison sentence. “He repackaged a product that he knew was not manufactured in the states but was under the belief it was the same product manufactured abroad. He knew that he had violated the law and accepted his responsibility by not contesting the charge.”
Court documents allege the masterminds behind the fraudulent flea…