Eight Indian-Americans have been arrested and charged with importing millions of misbranded opioid pills into the US from India and distributing the potentially lethal substance drugs to individuals and entities in the country through US Mail and other commercial couriers.
The eight accused, who were arrested on Thursday, primarily operated out of a warehouse in Queens, a New York City borough, where they repackaged the pills and mailed them to customers throughout the US, according to the Justice Department.
The arrest of the eight Indians came at a time when the The Trump administration is awarding nearly USD 2 billion in grants to states and local governments to help fight the opioid crisis and prevent its misuse and overdose.
Since January 2018, law enforcement authorities in the US had been investigating the large-scale importation of misbranded controlled substances, including tramadol, a synthetic opioid, into the US from India.
The eight accused who have been charged by federal court in Brooklyn are Ezhil Sezhian Kamaldoss, 46, Mukul Chugh, 24, Gulab Gulab, 45, Deepak Manchanda, 43, Parthiban Narayanasamy, 58, Baljeet Singh, 29, Harpreet Singh, 28 and 45-year-old Vikas M Verma.
If convicted, Kamaldoss faces up to 25 years' imprisonment while the other accused face up to five years' imprisonment. Kamaldoss is also charged with money laundering.
According to the Justice Department, the accused maintained daily ledgers detailing the names, addresses, pill size and pill amounts ordered by customers. During the course of the investigation, the defendants distributed millions of tramadol pills.
“As alleged, the defendants participated in a black market for prescription medications by distributing millions of opioid pills in tens of thousands of transactions in one year alone,” said United States Attorney Donoghue.
The illegal manufacture and distribution of opioids can result in overdoses and deaths, further fuelling the national crisis, said a Food and Drug Administration (FDA) official investigating the case.
The importation of mislabeled drugs is both dangerous and illegal and it contributes to the ongoing opioid crisis in America and causes harm to people, an FBI official said.
The FDA said it is committed to disrupting and dismantling illegal prescription drug distribution networks, including those that import unapproved drugs from overseas, and distribute those drugs with reckless disregard of the risk to public health.
This case serves as a great example of collaborative law enforcement efforts to combat international opioid trafficking conspirators, the official said.