Miami case reveals black market for high-priced prescription drugs. It took in $78 million
22 Jul 2021

In November 2013, Miami-Dade police officers conducted a routine search of a Kendall house and left with a batch of pharmaceuticals.

Over the next six years, that seemingly small-time operation would blow up into an elaborate $78 million prescription drug and money-laundering scheme tapping into what U.S. authorities describe as a thriving black market in high-priced prescription drugs.

A total of 14 individuals have been indicted in Miami federal court in the region’s largest case in recent years of drugs being diverted from legitimate suppliers and resold at high mark-ups to consumers, federal prosecutors say. Five people were indicted in June, while eight pleaded guilty last year. One suspect, Angel Caminero Alvarez, remains a fugitive.

They’re accused of operating a network that dealt in illegally purchased or stolen prescription drugs, mostly to treat HIV, cancer and psychiatric illnesses — often picking them up in random parking lots. Once acquired, prosecutors say, false documentation was created and the drugs were cleaned, counted and repackaged to be resold — first at a wholesale discount to pharmacies and then at market value to the public.

The black market network — labeled by prosecutors as a “pharmaceutical diversion” operation — spanned the country and involved businesses in Florida, Arizona, Delaware, Washington and Puerto Rico. Court records say the operation was active as early as January 2013 through late May 2019.

So far, Mohammad Mehdi Salemi, Leonides Herrera, Frank Alvarez, Kadir Diaz, Jorge Isaac Paiz, Carlos Robin Gonzalez and Adrian Cambara Ortiz from South Florida and other parts of the country have been sentenced after pleading guilty to charges, including conspiracy to launder money, conspiracy to knowingly falsify medical products or documentation and conspiracy to deliver misbranded and adulterated drugs, court documents say.

Prison sentences ranged from three years to just over eight years. Federal prosecutors also are seeking to seize from $50,000 to $3 million in assets from each of the defendants as part of the case, according to court records.

Joshua Ryan Joles of Miami, the chief executive officer of Wholesale Supply LLC, and the last to plead guilty, will be sentenced in July.

“Mr. Joles has accepted responsibility for his actions and is hoping to put this case behind him,” said his attorney, Marissel Descalzo, of Tache, Bronis, and Descalzo in Miami. None of the others convicted or their attorneys could be reached for comment.

Joles and Salemi, the chief executive officer of Wholesalers Group, Inc. and Wholesalers Group LLC, were the first two identified in the case and indicted in October 2019. The companies were used as fronts to divert pharmaceuticals and launder money during their operation, prosecutors said.

To fabricate the legitimacy of the drugs, prosecutors say the crew created documents called “pedigrees,” which are required to show all sales and transfers for prescription drugs. Beginning in 2015, all pedigrees provided to Joles showed how the drugs were purchased directly from the manufacturers, which was inaccurate, prosecutors said.

In reality, the drugs were acquired through theft, burglary and healthcare fraud, according to court records. They were also bought from patients who received them at a discounted rate through Medicare and Medicaid, according to a series of indictments and other court records.

Network members would pick up boxes of drugs by the hundreds in random parking lots or streets across South Florida, records show. Often, they were cleaned with lighter fluid and other chemicals to remove the label, glue and any trace of the prescriptions or previous owners.

Some drugs were past their expiration dates, inaccurately labeled and stored in incorrect conditions, records show.

By Ariana Aspuru, Miami Herald, 21 July 2021

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