Arrests made in historic pharma heist

Arrests were made May 3 in connection with the largest theft of pharmaceutical products in the history of Connecticut, according to law enforcement officials.

A pair of brothers, Amaury and Amed Villa, were arrested in Florida yesterday on charges they stole roughly $80 million in pharmaceutical products from an Eli Lilly warehouse in Enfield, Conn., in March 2010. The subsequent investigation involved the FBI, local Enfield Police Department and Eli Lilly’s global security department. “As a result of their efforts, and our counterparts in Florida and across the country, we believe that a prolific cargo theft ring has been dismantled,” David Fein, the U.S. Attorney for Connecticut, said in a statement.

According to the indictment, the Villa brothers, who are Cuban citizens living in Miami, broke into the Eli Lilly warehouse on the night of March 13, 2010, using equipment purchased at a Home Depot to cut a hole in the warehouse’s roof. They are accused of disabling parts of the ADT security system that protected the facility before using a forklift inside the warehouse to load several boxes of Zyprexa, Prozac and Gemzar into a rented tractor trailer. Amed Villa’s fingerprints were found on a water bottle within the warehouse, according to the indictment.

In Connecticut, Amaury and Amed Villa are each charged with one count of conspiracy to commit theft from an interstate shipment, which carries a maximum term of imprisonment of five years, and four counts of theft from an interstate shipment, each of which carries a maximum term of imprisonment of 10 years.

Following the theft, Bob Reilley, Eli Lilly’s director of global security, reviewed the event and security flaws that led to its initial success. He and his team shared lessons learned about warehouse security, multiple entry threats, visitor controls, alarm response controls, among others, with 25 pharmaceutical companies and others concerned with supply chain security, according to the company.

The company also began lobbying for stiffer penalties for those caught stealing pharmaceutical products. “Right now, there’s no distinction in penalty between the theft of a load tires and the theft of a load of medical products,” Reilley said. Because of the threat to patients’ safety, “the penalty should be much greater” for medical products, he said.

In 2011, Eli Lilly became an early member of the Coalition for Patient Safety and Medicine Integrity, along with six other pharmaceutical companies. Two primary goals of the coalition are to protect patients from risks posed by stolen and inappropriately handled medical products that enter legitimate distribution channels and increase the associated federal criminal penalties for crimes involving stolen medical products.

Congress is considering a bill (S. 1002) introduced by Sen. Charles Schumer (D-NY) and dubbed the SAFE DOSES Act that would increase penalties for medical product thefts.

The pharmaceutical products stolen by the Villa brothers, despite the passage of more than a year and a half, were recovered in October 2011 from a storage facility in Florida as part of the investigation. Eli Lilly said it plans to destroy the products when they are no longer needed as evidence.

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