MIAMI - A Florida-based crime ring that stole at least $80 million worth of prescription drugs, including one of the nation's biggest heists in Connecticut in 2010, has been broken up following a three-year undercover FBI probe, federal authorities said Thursday.
Eleven people were charged in an 18-count indictment returned in Miami, with others charged in locations where thefts occurred including Connecticut and New Jersey, U.S. Attorney Wifredo Ferrer said. The thieves hit warehouses and stole tractor-trailers around the country, often from highway rest stops, and brought the drugs to South Florida in an attempt to sell them.
The medications included antidepressants, antipsychotics, and treatments for cancer, acne, epilepsy, arthritis, autoimmune disorders, and other ailments, authorities said.
Undercover FBI agents were able to buy all of the stolen drugs to prevent them from entering the marketplace, said John Gillies, chief of the Miami FBI office. "This investigation represents the largest takedown in U.S. history involving cargo theft," Gillies said. "There were a lot of missing pieces to this case. We had no idea of the scope."
Besides the drugs, Gillies said, the ring stole more than $20 million in other goods, including Johnnie Walker Scotch whisky, cigarettes, cellphones, and inflatable boats.
One man charged in the Miami indictment, Amaury Villa, 37, was also charged with his brother, Amed Villa, 46, in the March 2010 theft of more than $75 million in drugs from an Eli Lilly & Co. warehouse in Enfield, Conn.
Although the drugs in this case were intercepted by undercover FBI agents, Ferrer said there's a real danger to consumers from such thefts if the medicines aren't properly stored or are tampered with before reentering the marketplace. "This can be life-threatening," he said.