Rogue Internet pharmacies go to great lengths to convince you that they are legitimate and safe. They often claim that the “quality of drugs is strictly observed,” or that all of their drugs are produced in “FDA-approved facilities” that provide the same drugs as you buy from your neighborhood pharmacy, but for a fraction of the price. Unfortunately, the reality is usually far from that, as was the case with Asian Capital Equities, an Internet pharmacy network that has long been designated by LegitScript as rogue, and was recently charged in a second superseding indictment by a federal grand jury in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. The indictment alleges fraud, intimidation, and even death.
According to the 24-count indictment, Javed Sunesra, Zuned Sunesra, Bismillah Sunesra, Samir Taslimant, and others, collectively known as Asian Capital Equities (ACE), supplied prescription drugs, including high-risk antidepressants, medications with serious side effects, and controlled substances, to patients in the United States. Their websites, which are now mostly defunct, had the usual praise for high standards and quality, but, as the indictment states, the drugs that patients received were not manufactured in FDA-approved facilities, let alone approved for use in the US. Rather, patients received mail-order drugs that were apparently manufactured in India and of unknown quality, origin, and, in some cases, with an unknown alphabetical imprint. Surprised by what they received, some patients flushed the drugs down the toilet, not wanting to put their health at risk.
Sadly enough, not everyone was as fortunate. The indictment cites one customer who ordered sertraline, a prescription-only antidepressant, from the ACE website superdrugsaver.com and reported: “the pills that I received from them have made me so sick and depressed, I cannot even express to you in words how bad these pills have made me feel.” Tragically, another person who had allegedly ordered Ultram, a prescription-only opioid pain reliever, from the same website, committed suicide. (Doctors are specifically warned not to prescribe Ultram to patients who are suicidal or addiction-prone.) Yet, despite claims to the contrary, the Internet pharmacy in question did not require a prescription. Especially within this context, it is disconcerting to read a snippet of alleged intercepted correspondence in which one of the ACE members is quoted as saying to a marketing agent responsible for the information on the website: “You are giving too many side effects. Please remember we are trying to sell the medication and not discourage people from buying it.”
The deceptive business practices were not limited to the marketing of the drugs. As banks and credit card companies increasingly make it more difficult for Internet pharmacy networks to maintain a merchant account for the illegal sale of prescription drugs, they are forced to seek alternatives for receiving payment. In an attempt to circumvent this problem, ACE disguised customer orders by making them appear to be gift card purchases or by employing other processes that did not involve credit cards. (Indeed, LegitScript had documented one of their websites, mygiftcard.biz, supposedly selling gift cards but actually being used to process illegal pharmaceutical orders. We let the financial processor know when we discovered it, and they immediately cut off services to the network.) The money from these purchases was re-routed to private bank accounts overseas.
According to the indictment, Javed Sunesra, Zuned Sunesra, Bismillah Sunesra, and Samir Taslimant were fully aware that they were operating illegally. The court documents allege that ACE received correspondence from law firms stating that their activity violates US law, received cease-and-desist letters from pharmaceutical companies, and internally circulated a LegitScript report outlining how rogue Internet pharmacies such as those within the ACE network operate illegally. In the indictment, Zuned Sunresa is accused of trying to obstruct the judicial proceeding by “employing both oral and written communications in an attempt to cause a witness not to testify and cooperate.”
LegitScript has been monitoring the Asian Capital Equities network for several years, and as we shut down their websites at various points over time, we even had some email correspondence with them. As mentioned in the indictment, networks like ACE typically violate the law and put patients’ health and safety at risk by:
- selling prescription drugs without requiring a prescription,
- selling unapproved drugs,
- lacking a valid pharmacy license in all jurisdictions where the drugs are offered to be shipped to,
- engaging in deceptive and fraudulent business practices.
In our analysis, the ACE network was engaged in all four of these violations, and we have therefore traditionally designated the Internet pharmacy websites within this network as rogue Internet pharmacies. LegitScript records show that the ACE network operated over 700 websites, with names such as emedoutlet.com, shopeastwest.com, and tristatedrugs.com. These websites offered to ship a wide variety of prescription drugs, including in some cases controlled substances, to patients worldwide. As we noted in a 2009 report, one of these websites, shopeastwest.com, was approved by PharmacyChecker at the time of our 2009 report, despite selling prescription drugs without requiring a valid prescription and selling drugs to the US that were not FDA-approved for safety or effectiveness.
The allegations in the ACE indictment portray a grim picture of the true nature of typical rogue Internet pharmacy networks. In our experience researching and monitoring Internet pharmacy networks, we can say that networks like ACE are the rule rather than the exception. Make no mistake: rogue Internet pharmacy websites do not have your best interests at heart.