A 29-year-old Indian doctor who orchestrated a staggering global Internet pharmacy network from his apartment in Roxborough was sentenced today to 30 years in prison.
Akhil Bansal, who was an MBA student at Temple University, created and operated a network that smuggled 11 million prescription pills from India and distributed them to 60,000 Americans.
"The evidence of your guilt is overwhelming, sir," U.S. District Judge Paul Diamond said. "You distributed poison throughout the country."
Diamond said that Bansal showed no remorse whatsoever and that it was impossible to believe a trained doctor would not know that the pills involved require a prescription.
The investigation, dubbed Operation Cyberchase, marked the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration's first-ever major investigation of its type.
Bansal's double life as student and rogue Web pharmacy supplier - as well as the hunt to catch him - were chronicled last year in an Inquirer series called "Drugnet."
The series is posted at www.philly.com/inquirer/special/pill/
Before sentencing, Bansal said, "Truly in my heart, I believe I did not commit these serious charges."
Speaking softly in English, he said, "I am studying the law and I ask myself everyday, 'How did I end up here in this position without realizing what make me end up in this position?' . . . What I have not lost is my belief in the justice system."
Bansal has said he was looking forward to his appeal.
Defense lawyer Paul J. Hetznecker told the judge that Bansal "has been demonized by his own stubbornness and apparent arrogance in the courtroom."
Hetzneicker said Bansal grew up in a strict family and did what he did to please his father.
"Behind the arrogance is a tremendous amount of pain," he said. "I do see a humbled and scared individual."
The Bansal family operated a wholesale network, supplying dozens of illegal online pharmacies, offering Viagra, sedatives and painkillers without a prescription. By shipping 75,000 pills a day from a New York safe house, the Bansals reaped roughly $8 million.
"This is a serious offense and calls for a serious sentence," said Assistant U.S. Attorney Frank Costello.
"Not once in this courtroom . . . did he ever express harm that anyone could have been harmed by what he did," Costello said. Noting that Bansal graduated from medical school in India, the prosecutor said, "I can't appreciate a person who would be more in a position of understanding his actions. . .."
Bansal, 29, faced a 20-year minimum mandatory sentence. The advisory sentencing guidelines called for 30 years to life.
The DEA-FBI investigation began in February 2003 at Philadelphia International Airport when a suspicious package was found to contain 120 tablets of generic Valium. The case took agents to Australia, Costa Rica and India.
The climax came in April 2005, with 17 synchronized arrests in Philadelphia, New York, Florida and India, where Bansal's father and sister, Brij Bansal and Julie Agarwal, were arrested. Authorities also seized bank accounts in 11 countries.
Akhil Bansal was arrested April 19 in Roxborough at 1:30 a.m., carrying an hours-old plane ticket to India.
Most of those arrested, including Bansal's roommate, Atul Patil, struck plea deals and received sentences of less than three years.
But Bansal, arguing that what he did was legal in India, and two others, risked trial. All three were convicted after two-month trials.
Fred Mullinix of Sarasota, Fla., who made more than $1 million creating Web sites that took orders and forwarded them to the Bansals, was sentenced to 12 years.
Sanjeev Srivastav, Bansal's loyal friend and mentor since medical school in India, was sentenced to 15 years for his role in the conspiracy.