A Miami man pleaded guilty in federal court to distributing at least $16.7 million of adulterated HIV drugs that were ultimately distributed to unsuspecting patients throughout the United States.
Armando Herrera, 43, was one of two “kingpins” who were part of the counterfeit HIV drug ring. Working in conjunction with 51-year-old Lazaro Roberto Hernandez — who pleaded guilty to running a criminal enterprise in April and was sentenced to 15 years in prison in July — Herrera designed an elaborate scheme to distribute the HIV drugs illegally to enrich themselves.
The operation involved illegally acquiring pills manufactured by Gilead and repackaging them in used pill bottles, collected by low-level people within the ring from homeless individuals and people suffering from drug addiction in exchange for cash.
Those bottles were then resealed to appear unopened and were sold, with some of the HIV drugs’ component parts being replaced by dangerous drugs, including the anti-psychotic drug Seroquel, which can have a multitude of harmful side effects if used for prolonged periods.
Hernandez and Herrera set up companies in Florida, Texas, Washington, and California to distribute the adulterated HIV medication, along with other drugs, to wholesale pharmaceutical suppliers.
Those suppliers then sold the drugs to pharmacies, who distributed them to patients living with HIV.
Herrera and Hernandez also created false documentation to make it seem like the drugs had been acquired legally.
Back in 2021, pharmaceutical giant Gilead Sciences warned that knock-off versions of Biktarvy and Descovy medications, which are used to treat HIV infections, and the latter of which can also be used as PrEP, were being sold to pharmacies by unauthorized distributors.
In October 2022, Gilead identified Herrera and Hernandez as the leaders of the counterfeit medication operation, based on matching the approximate locations of their disposable burner cell phones with flight records. The company alleged that both men had taken “elaborate steps to conceal their identities.”
According to the Miami Herald, Herrera and his co-conspirators created several wholesale companies, including the Texas-based Rapid’s Tex Whole Sales Corp., the Texas-based MR Unlimited, the Washington State-based Invicta Wholesale Supply LLC, the California-based Omom Pharmaceuticals, Inc., and the Florida-based Titan Distributors & Services LLC, to carry out the scheme.
They also established two other wholesale companies in Maryland and Colorado — which were not named in the criminal complaint against Herrera — to resell and ship the adulterated and misbranded drugs to pharmacies across the U.S., which billed health care benefit programs and insurers thousands of dollars for each 30-day supply of medications prescribed to people living with HIV.
Herrera and his co-conspirators transferred a portion of the proceeds from the scheme to the company they established in Florida.
According to the criminal complaint, Herrera and his co-conspirators were alleged to have adulterated or mislabeled at least 16,050 tablets of the HIV medication Truvada, 3,690 tablets of the HIV medication Biktarvy, and 7,341 tablets of “other adulterated and misbranded diverted drugs.”
According to a U.S. Department of Justice press release, Herrera pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to introduce adulterated and misbranded drugs into interstate commerce. He is scheduled to be sentenced on December 21 and could face up to five years in prison.
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