Fox Chapel woman pleads guilty to importing drugs illegally to her husband's Pittsburgh pharmacy

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The wife of a Highland Park pharmacist admitted Thursday that she illegally imported wholesale prescription cancer drugs from Ireland and England to sell at her husband's pharmacy on North Negley Avenue.

Robin Simon, 45, of Fox Chapel, whose husband, Steven, owns Stanton Negley Pharmacy, had been charged in June with smuggling and unlawful importation and entered the plea before U.S. District Judge Arthur J. Schwab.

Federal prosecutors said she and her husband bought Xeloda in 2007 from United Drug Wholesalers, based in Ireland, and directed the company to send the drugs to them while they were staying at a hotel in Lisbon, Portugal. Prosecutors said they could buy the drugs for much less in Europe than they would have paid wholesalers in the U.S.

After a maid found the remnants of the drug packages in their hotel room, Portuguese police and the Irish Medicines Board began an investigation of United Drug.

Mr. Simon has not been charged. The U.S. attorney's office would not comment beyond what was said in court, and Ms. Simon's lawyer, Paul Boas, did not comment.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Shaun Sweeney said the Simons learned of that investigation from their contact at United Drug and stopped ordering from the company, switching to another wholesaler, Heathrow Healthcare, based in Britain.

In 2008, Heathrow sent two packages containing 840 Xeloda tablets to the Simons at their home, but U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents intercepted the packages and set up a controlled delivery. In November of that year, agents executed a search warrant at the pharmacy and the Simon home and recovered documents pertaining to the drug deliveries.

The Simons had been warned before about importing prescription drugs. In 2000, they began to buy from United Drug, the largest wholesaler in Ireland. After customs officials in Philadelphia intercepted a package that year sent to their pharmacy, the Food and Drug Administration sent the Simons a fax outlining FDA regulations. Mr. Simon then directed that the package of drugs be returned to United Drug.

The Simons weren't charged as a result of that incident, but a short time later they began traveling to Europe to take delivery of shipments from United Drug at hotels where they stayed in various cities, Mr. Sweeney said.

From 2000 to July 2007, he said, they traveled to Europe five or six times a year and paid United at least $1.4 million for medications that they then sold from the pharmacy in Pittsburgh to patients with a prescription.

But they apparently got sloppy in Lisbon, removing the drugs from their packages but leaving the packaging remnants behind.

Mr. Sweeney said investigators did not find any patients who were harmed by the imported drugs. The medication was not counterfeit, but made in New Jersey by Roche Laboratories and shipped overseas for use by cancer patients in Europe.

Ms. Simon is scheduled to be sentenced Dec. 20.

neigh_city - neigh_north

Torsten Ove: tove@post-gazette.com.


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