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Man Gets 13 Months in Fake-pill Ring

From Houston Chronicle (TX) (December 20, 2011)


Dec. 20--The leader of a Houston-based ring that illegally imported thousands of counterfeit Viagra and Cialis pills from China and sold the erectile-dysfunction remedies as the real deal was sentenced to prison Monday.

Such pills, which are believed to often work but pose a risk for users, feed a massive underground market for the pirated pharmaceuticals.

Irfan Qadir, a Pakistani illegal immigrant who operated out of a grocery on Bissonnet, was sentenced to 13 months in prison and ordered to pay about $140,000 in restitution to pharmaceutical giants Pfizer and Eli Lilly. Qadir, who came to the United States last year and overstayed a tourist permit, faces deportation after prison. He was described by Immigration and Customs Enforcement as a "major distributor."

Originated in China

Several different U.S. postal boxes were used to import as well as distribute the fake pharmaceuticals, according to ICE.

In the six months prior to Qadir's arrest in May, he was sent nearly 8,000 pills, Assistant U.S. Attorney Cedric Joubert said. "It is no secret most of our counterfeit pharmaceuticals, particularly these drugs, come out of China."

Legitimate Viagra pills sell for about $20 a piece, but the fakes Qadir referred to as "blues" in secretly monitored conversations went for half that price or less, according to authorities. Cialis pills were called "yellows."

Outlaw pill makers usually want to make sure they work well enough to keep users coming back but take risks with health, said Bill Donnelly, Pfizer's chief of anti-counterfeiting for North America.

"They are more likely to put too much active ingredient," said Donnelly, a retired FBI agent. "If it works too well, people will buy it again."

And that is the risk, he said.

"The problem is you don't know how these things are manufactured," he said. "They are potentially putting their lives in danger because they really don't know where these things are coming from."

8.3 million seized in 10

Pfizer, which works internationally with law-enforcement to uncover as well as prosecute cases of counterfeiting, said it has tested seized pills that contained wallboard or been colored by the same paint used on highways.

"Another thing with counterfeits is they are often manufactured in places where you wouldn't even want to walk around," Donnelly said. "Some of these places are filthy."

About 8.3 million fake Pfizer tablets were seized worldwide in 2010, according to the company, and 57 percent of those were copies of Viagra.

dane.schiller@chron.com

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(c)2011 the Houston Chronicle

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Posted: December 2011


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