Bust of illegal prescription drugs sale operation started at SP market
Published:  July 05, 2014

An anonymous tip to Crime Stoppers about a Santa Paula market selling illegal prescription drugs imported from Mexico resulted in a five-month multi-agency investigation capped by 20 arrests, according to a Ventura County Sheriff’s Department spokesman.

The Ventura County Interagency Pharmaceutical Crimes Unit (VCIPCU) made the arrests and also uncovered thousands of illegal prescription medicines, including those sold in Ventura, Los Angeles and San Diego counties that contained shredded plastic rather than medication.

The Medical Board of California and Los Angeles County Health Authority Law Enforcement Task Force (HALT) were also involved immediately in the investigation that led from Santa Paula to the border town of San Ysidro and included drugs for sale listed on Craigslist.

The investigation began in early February when VCIPCU received a Crime Stoppers Tip alerting them to the unlawful sale of prescription medication from an unidentified Santa Paula market. 

Investigators went undercover to buy prescription medication from the market and when they discovered others throughout the county were also selling similar prescription medications illegally they went shopping. 

In all, detectives bought prescription drugs - mainly antibiotics and pain medications - from seven other markets located in Oxnard, Simi Valley, and Fillmore. 

The drugs were originally manufactured in Mexico and officials said many of the clerks at the markets where the drugs were being sold told the undercover detectives how to take the medications, providing dosage and ingestion instructions.

During the investigation it was also learned that one person that took medication purchased from one of the stores suffered a near fatal infection probably caused by drug contamination.

The task force was able to identify that some of the sources of supply for the Mexican medications were storefronts in Downtown Los Angeles; investigators from both the VCIPCU and a similar task force in Los Angeles conducted undercover buys for similar medications in these markets.

In all, searches were conducted at 15 locations in Ventura and Los Angeles counties. Approximately 16,000 pills, bottles, and vials of prescription medication were recovered that were illegally available for purchase by the general public. 

Interestingly enough, investigators found that stores in Ventura County were more “discreet” in their sales, hiding medications from public view, while Los Angeles County stores had the drugs clearly visible on the shelves. 

The medications consisted of antibiotics, antifungals, antivirals, antispasmodics, analgesics, malaria treatments, lifestyle drugs, and steroids.

Just locating the sellers of the illegal prescription drugs to the public was the first step of the investigation: knowing that the majority of these drugs were coming from Mexico, investigators looked for other sources of supply directly from Mexico. 

Detectives learned of a Tijuana resident offering prescription drugs for sale via the online site Craigslist. 

Still acting undercover, detectives made contact with Miguel Meza, 64, of Tijuana, Mexico, who offered the medications already identified by the task force as well as Xanax, Ritalin, Norco, Tramadol, and Adderall, for sale. 

Detectives met with Meza, and his partner, 54-year-old Pedro Morales, also a resident of Tijuana, Mexico, in San Diego where a $1,000 purchase was made of various prescription medications, including Xanax and Tramadol.

On June 26 investigators again arranged to meet Meza and Morales for a much larger deal involving additional drugs, but this time Meza and Morales were arrested at the Fashion Valley Mall in San Diego, where the exchange was supposed to take place.

Over 1,600 pills - including the ADHD treatment drugs Ritalin and Adderall, as well as Xanax, Tramadol, and various antibiotics - intended for sale were seized. 

Detectives also served a search warrant on Meza’s storage locker located in the 600 block of San Ysidro Boulevard, in San Ysidro, where more than 20,000 dosage units of prescription medications, as well as a quarter pound of Ketamine, and a small amount of marijuana were also recovered. The medications seized consisted of Adderall, Xanax, Valium, testosterone, antibiotics, lifestyle drugs, and diet drugs, all found to have come from Mexico, Pakistan, and other foreign countries where quality control is lacking or non-existent. 

In addition, a preliminary analysis of the medications showed that large portions of the seized drugs were counterfeits or adulterated and were even found to have been made with shredded plastic.

Both Meza and Morales were booked into the Ventura County Jail for sales of controlled substances and dangerous drugs. Their bail was set at $600,000 each.

The Ventura County Sheriff’s Narcotics East County Street Team also assisted with the investigation.

The Ventura County Interagency Pharmaceutical Crimes Unit is a full-time task force comprised of members from the Ventura County Sheriff’s Office, Simi Valley Police Department, the District Attorney’s Office Bureau of Investigation, and the California Highway Patrol. 

The task force’s main mission is specialized: combating the transfer of legal prescription medication to the illegal market. And, in this case in particular, illegally importing medication that not only would not meet United States health and safety guidelines but selling counterfeit drugs or importing medication that are contaminated or in some other way unsafe.

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