After a seven-week trial, two pharmacists accused of selling almost 10 million addictive painkillers illegally over the Internet were convicted yesterday in federal court in Baltimore of that offense and several others.
Steven Abiodun Sodipo, 51, of Forest Hill and Callixtus Onigbo Nwaehiri, 49, of Jarrettsville were found guilty of selling 9,936,075 units of hydrocodone online using phony prescriptions; conspiracy to launder money; engaging in transactions involving the proceeds of drug sales; and filing false tax returns.
Sodipo and Nwaehiri, who face maximum sentences of 70 years in prison, owned and operated Newcare Pharmacy in the 400 block of Sinclair Lane in Baltimore, a business they founded in 1993 that initially specialized in delivering medications and medical supplies to nursing homes and other assisted-living facilities. There was no walk-in service as in traditional, drugstore-based pharmacies.
Prosecutors said that beginning in 2004, the defendants joined a "nationwide conspiracy" to illegally sell hydrocodone over the Internet to anyone with a valid credit card. They engaged in agreements with Web site operators to fill prescriptions e-mailed to them that were signed by a small group of doctors. The doctors, who never saw or spoke to customers, routinely authorized the prescriptions, which were then wired to Newcare for filling and shipment, prosecutors said. In return, Newcare was paid $20 for each prescription it filled and shipped.
"Prescription drug abuse is a growing crisis in Maryland and throughout the nation, and it is one of our most important drug enforcement challenges," Maryland U.S. Attorney Rod J. Rosenstein said after the verdicts. "Many people wrongly assume that prescription drugs are safe. The truth is that using any drugs without proper medical supervision can result in addiction, injury or death."
Carl J. Kotowski, an assistant special agent in charge of the Drug Enforcement Administration's Baltimore office, said the investigation of Newcare "sends an instant message to cybercriminals that the Internet is not their safe house."
Evidence presented at trial showed that Sodipo and Nwaehiri continued to sell large quantities of hydrocodone even while aware that some of their customers were addicts.
The government is seeking the forfeiture of $20 million, the gross proceeds of the sales of hydrocodone from January 2005 to October 2006, when DEA agents raided Newcare's 55,000-square-foot facility and arrested its owners. More than 50 employees of the pharmacy lost their jobs. The government also intends to seize the Newcare facility and its contents, and the homes, bank accounts and motor vehicles of the defendants.
Chief U.S. District Judge Benson E. Legg set sentencing of the two men for Oct. 21.
A co-defendant, Ahmed Alhaji Abdulrazaaq, 49, of Forest Hill was charged with conspiracy to defraud the IRS and is scheduled to go to trial Sept. 2.