Thursday, September 20, 2001

Bears lose their stuffing; bust uncovers Viagra scheme




By Janice Morse
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        HAMILTON — The Butler County Sheriff's Office has confiscated six plush white toy bears, each stuffed with plastic bags containing 6,000 fake Viagra pills.

        Sheriff Harold Don Gabbard said the bears, containing blue pills that look very much like the popular sexual-enhancement drug, were sent from China. They were taken from the Liberty Township home last week.

[photo] Detective Jeff Riegert examines a bag containing 6,000 counterfeit Viagra pills and the plush bear they were hidden in.
(Michael Snyder photo)
| ZOOM |
        No one has been arrested.

        But police said they are pursuing felony charges for illegal pharmaceutical sales over the Internet. A grand jury is set to hear the case Oct. 5.

        Butler County Prosecutor Robin Piper said he had never heard of a similar bust. “It's a way of victimizing and making money off of innocent people and hoping they don't know they're victimized,” Mr. Piper said."

        Police said the counterfeit drugs were very realistic.

        “It definitely looks like the real thing, but it's not,” Sheriff Gabbard said Wednesday. “If the pills would have made it to the streets, they would have had a resale value of $240,000.”

        The sheriff's office began investigating the case in June after a representative of Pfizer Pharmaceuticals of New York City, the patented drug's legitimate manufacturer and distributor, reported suspicions that the drug was being illegally sold from Butler County under the bogus name “Dr. Frank Schwab.”

        A Pfizer employee saw the drug advertised on a Web site, ordered some, analyzed it and found that it contained “some of the same ingredients” as Viagra, but in weaker doses, Sheriff Gabbard said.

        Authorities think the operation has been running since December, but they do not know how many customers purchased the bogus pills. They would not say whether any more arrests could follow and did not know whether anyone in China would be prosecuted.
       



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