Inspections, Compliance, Enforcement, and Criminal Investigations
January 30, 2012: Registered Nurse Convicted of Illegally Distributing Prescription Drugs and International Money Laundering
BOSTON - Following a two-week trial, a Stoughton woman was convicted today in federal court of illegally distributing prescription drugs and international money laundering. Gladys Ihenacho, 46, who is a registered nurse, was convicted of conspiracy to distribute, dispense and possess with intent to distribute Schedule III and IV controlled substances; five counts of distribution of Schedule IV controlled substances; conspiracy to commit international money laundering; and international money laundering.
United States District Judge Richard Stearns scheduled sentencing for May 9, 2012. Ihenacho faces up to 10 years in prison, followed by up to three years of supervised release and a fine of $500,000 on the counts of conspiracy and distribution of Schedule III and IV drugs. Ihenacho also faces up to 20 years in prison followed by up to three years of supervised release and a $500,000 fine on the counts of conspiracy to commit international money laundering and international money laundering.
Ihenacho and her husband, Baldwin Ihenacho, a registered pharmacist, co-owned and operated Meetinghouse Community Pharmacy in Dorchester. From about October 2007 and continuing to October 2008, Ihenacho and her husband conspired and agreed with others to intentionally distribute prescriptions that were issued outside of the usual course of professional practice and not for a legitimate medical purpose. The controlled substances included but were not limited to: Phendimetrazine Tartrate (used for weight loss), Alprazolam (also known as Xanax, used to treat anxiety), Clonazepam (used to treat seizure or panic disorders), Diazepam (used to treat anxiety, alcohol withdrawal symptoms or muscle spasms), Diethylpropion HCL (used as an appetite suppressant), Lorazepam (used to treat anxiety), Phentermine, Phentermine Blue and Phentermine Yellow (all used for weight loss) and Zolpidem Tartrate (used to treat insomnia).
Meetinghouse was the primary fulfillment pharmacy for Golden Island Investment or GoldenIGroup, an Internet pharmacy operation located in the Dominican Republic. Consumers who wished to obtain certain drugs, but who did not have a prescription from a physician to obtain them, would surf the web for a site that offered to sell the desired medications. The customers were not asked to supply medical records and may or may not have been asked to answer a brief medical questionnaire. Website operators approved the orders and asked the patient to pay for the drugs requested using a major credit card. They would then send a request to someone, in some instances a doctor (who had never seen or met the patient) and in some instances a lay person, to “authorize” the order.
Meetinghouse received these “approved” orders by computer, dispensing the drugs into vials with an insert provided by the website operator. The pharmacy then mailed the drugs to the customer using pre-designed order forms supplied by the website operator by a private express mail service. In most instances, the customer was located in a state different from either the pharmacy or the doctor. Several doctors whose names were on the drug orders shipped by Meetinghouse testified that they never worked for the Internet pharmacy operations, never authorized their name to be used and never received a call from Meetinghouse to confirm that any prescription(s) were valid or issued for a legitimate medical purpose. Another doctor and Meetinghouse were paid by the Internet pharmacy operator for writing and/or authorizing the drug orders filling them, respectively. The evidence proved that the doctors did not have a doctor/patient relationship with the Internet website customers, as required by law. Additionally, in August of 2008, Ihenacho received specific warnings from several state agencies that this dispensing conduct was unlawful.
During the height of its operation, Meetinghouse shipped approximately 1,000 packages of drugs per week to customers all over the United States; customers who did not have a prescription for the drugs that were dispensed. During the course of the Internet pharmacy enterprise, Meetinghouse dispensed, or caused to be dispensed, over 3.5 million pills, all without the required valid prescriptions. For their dispensing services, Ihenacho and her husband received approximately $1.2 million in payment from the Internet pharmacy operations. These funds were transferred to Ihenacho’s U.S. account, from accounts located in the Dominican Republic, constituting international money laundering.
Baldwin Ihenacho, pleaded guilty on Aug. 17, 2011 to conspiracy to distribute and dispense schedule III and IV controlled substances; dispensing of schedule III and IV controlled substances; introduction of misbranded drugs into interstate commerce while held for sale; international money laundering; and aiding and abetting. He is scheduled to be sentenced on Feb. 17, 2012.
U.S. Attorney Carmen M. Ortiz said, “Rogue pharmacies, like Meetinghouse, exist to profit from the sale of prescription medications to customers who have not seen a doctor and do not have a valid prescription. These pharmacies lack quality assurance and accountability and their products pose a serious danger to customers, who are often addicted to the medications they seek and for which they could not obtain a valid prescription.”
“These investigations are critically important in protecting, not only legitimate consumers, but also our Internet savvy youth, who can fill prescriptions through these illegal online websites without parental approval,” she added.
U.S. Attorney Ortiz; Kevin L. Lane, Acting Special Agent in Charge of the Drug Enforcement Administration - Boston Field Division; Mark Dragonetti, Special Agent in Charge of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, Office of Criminal Investigations of the New York Field Office; Richard DesLauriers, Special Agent in Charge of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, Boston Field Office; William P. Offord, Special Agent in Charge of the Internal Revenue Service’s Criminal Investigation in Boston; and Robert Bethel, Inspector in Charge of the United States Postal Inspection Service made the announcement today. The case is being prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorneys Mary Elizabeth Carmody, Shelbey D. Wright and Michelle Dineen Jerrett of Ortiz’s Health Care Fraud Unit.