Fox Chapel woman pleads guilty to repeatedly smuggling anti-cancer drugs into U.S.
A Fox Chapel couple traveled to Europe five or six times a year to buy prescription drugs wholesale and smuggle them home for sale at a family-owned pharmacy, prosecutors say.
Robin W. Simon, 45, pleaded guilty Thursday in federal court to unlawfully importing the drugs and will be sentenced on Dec. 20. The U.S. Attorney's Office declined to say why her husband, Steven Simon, 48, was not charged.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Shaun Sweeney said the couple paid a drug wholesaler in Ireland at least $1.4 million for medication that would have cost “substantially more” if purchased from wholesalers in the United States.
One frequently ordered drug was Xeloda, a treatment for breast, colon and colorectal cancer, he said.
The Simon family has owned Stanton Negley Drug Co. in Highland Park for more than 30 years. A pharmacist there referred questions to Paul Boas, Robin Simon's attorney, who could not be reached.
Donald W. Light, a fellow at Safra Center for Ethics at Harvard University, said it's difficult to estimate how much profit the pharmacy realized from European purchases.
For specialty drugs such as cancer medications, the European price can be as low as one-third of the U.S. price, said Light, who studies the pharmaceutical industry.
“The U.S. is the only affluent country that allows companies to set their own prices — particularly for cancer drugs — as high as they want,” he said.
Medicare is required to reimburse companies at those prices for any drug the Food and Drug Administration approves, and most private insurers follow suit, Light said.
Most European countries have drug review boards that determine the value of drugs and set recommendations that insurers tend to follow, he said.
Federal law makes it illegal for people to buy drugs in Europe and bring them into the United States — even drugs made in the United States and exported, he said.
Sweeney said the couple began ordering from United Drug Wholesalers in Ireland in 2000, shipping drugs to their business. Customs officials intercepted a package in October 2000, and the FDA warned the couple that they were breaking the law, he said.
They were not charged with a crime or fined, but that December, “the Simons began to travel frequently to Europe, where they would take delivery of shipments from United Drug at the hotels at which they stayed,” Sweeney said.
In seven years, they bought prescription drugs worth about $1.4 million from the Irish company, he said.
In July 2007, a hotel maid in Portugal spotted discarded packaging from a drug shipment and notified police.
When the Simons learned Portuguese police and the Irish Medicines Board were investigating, they stopped ordering from United Drug and started buying from Heathrow in the United Kingdom, Sweeney said.
Customs officials intercepted two packages in September 2008.
A search of the pharmacy and the Simons' home turned up documents detailing purchases, he said.
Roche Laboratories in New Jersey manufactured the drugs.
Investigators found no patients who were harmed by the illegally imported drugs.
Brian Bowling is a Trib Total Media staff writer. Reach him at 412-325-4301 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Show commenting policy
TribLive commenting policy
You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.
We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.
While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.
We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers.
We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.
We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.
We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.
We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.
- Penguins notebook: Martin not concerned about expiring contract
- Steelers’ Roethlisberger hurting after big hit
- Auditor General to expand Education audit to include Tomalis
- Police: Barracks ambush suspect sought mass murder
- E-68 respiratory virus identified in Pennsylvania
- Southmoreland student injured in school assault
- Former Pirates pitcher Tekulve doing well after heart transplant
- State awards six Western Pennsylvania schools mentoring grants
- Pirates notebook: Hurdle quiet on rotation plans
- Convict’s wish for assisted suicide OK’d in Belgium
- Landmark Ukraine, EU deal ratified