A Chinese national and a naturalized US citizen were arrested March 23 for allegedly selling counterfeit weight loss medications after a two-year-long sting operation conducted by three federal agencies.
Sengyang Zhou, a 30-year old Chinese national from Kunming in southwestern China, was arrested in Hawaii and charged with violations of interstate commerce and drug laws. The charges carry penalties of up to 10 years in prison and up to $1 million in fines.
A second defendant, Qingming Hu, 60, a naturalized US citizen, was arrested in Plano, Texas on the same day. She is charged with helping Zhou by operating a website and providing a US base of operations for Zhou. Both defendants are scheduled to be advised of charges in US District Court in Denver, Colorado on April 7.
According to the affidavit released by the cooperating agencies — the US Food and Drug Administration, US Immigration and Customs Enforcement and the US Postal Service — Zhou manufactured and sold in the US counterfeit versions of Glaxo-Smith Klein's popular over the counter weight loss drug Alli. According to the affidavit, the counterfeit products were imported from China and were marketed under the names "Superslim," "2 Day Diet," and "Meitzitang." The pills, billed as dietary supplements or nutritional products, contained undeclared active pharmaceutical ingredients, including Sibutramine (a controlled substance), antidepressants, potent diuretics available only by prescription and drugs not approved for use in the United States.
Sibutramine can cause high blood pressure, seizures, tachycardia, palpitations, heart attack or stroke. In one case a man who was using the authentic version of Alli purchased a cheaper counterfeit version from one of Zhou's sales channels, which included e-mail marketing and Internet auction websites. The man suffered a severe adverse reaction, which led him to fear he was having a heart attack. Federal agents procured the pills from the victim and were able to link them Zhou, according to the affidavit.
In the course of the sting operation conducted in 2008 and 2009 agents ordered counterfeit pills from Zhou online and wired payments to bank accounts in the US or to Zhou's girlfriend in China. Undercover agents also had a meeting with Zhou in a third country during which he identified himself as the manufacturer of the pills.