By NEIL HARTNELL
Tribune Business Editor
The alleged Bahamian ‘front’ for a multinational counterfeit prescription drugs ring, who ignored warnings she was selling fake product, is facing a re-trial on fraud-related charges.
The Court of Appeal, in a ruling handed down on Monday, quashed a previous Magistrate’s Court ruling that Missouri Bain Thompson, operator of the Freeport-based Personal Touch Pharmacy, had “no case to answer”.
The original ruling found that the Attorney General’s Office had failed to provide direct evidence linking Ms Thompson and her business to the counterfeit drugs scheme, and could only make a circumstantial case.
Yet the Court of Appeal ruling, written by Appeal Justice John, found that there was “sufficient nexus” linking her to counterfeit drug shipments from Freeport to the US.
And there was also evidence that Ms Thompson was “passing off” fake pharmaceutical drugs as genuine.
The Court of Appeal verdict reveals Ms Thompson allowed Personal Touch Pharmacy to be used as a ‘front’ by Dwight McCoy and Andrew Stremplar, and the latter’s RxNorth.com website, to facilitate counterfeit medical drugs being supplied to US patients.
These patients thought they were receiving the real product, not fakes, meaning the scheme could have placed their health - and possibly their lives in jeopardy.
“The prosecution’s case was that, by way of conspiracy between [Thompson], Dwight McCoy (a US citizen) and RxNorth.com (in the person of Andrew Stremplar), the.. Personal Touch Pharmacy was used to import counterfeit pharmaceutical products, namely counterfeit Lipitor, Singulair, Celebrex, Hyzaar, Plavix, among others, into Freeport for onward export to patients in the United States,” the Court of Appeal said.
“The patients, through RxNorth.com, ordered the drugs on the representation that they would receive what they ordered, not counterfeit products.
“The drugs were in a warehouse in Freeport, under the general management of [Thompson].”
The counterfeit drugs conspiracy was brought to an end in June 2006, when fake product sent by Ms Thompson from Freeport via DHL courier was seized by law enforcement at Miami International Airport.
A raid by the Royal Bahamas Police Force found the counterfeit drugs in the Freeport warehouse, and the ruling added: “Those drugs seized were positively tested as counterfeit by the actual manufacturers and the Food and Drug Administration.”
The DHL bill, showing the Personal Touch Pharmacy as the dispatcher of the drugs seized in Miami, was recovered. A copy of that bill was also found in the Freeport warehouse.
Paperwork found by the US authorities matched the counterfeit drugs seized from the Freeport warehouse, and Ms Thompson had admitted to possessing the fake product in a separate Supreme Court case.
The Freeport warehouse was leased from a Bahamian firm by RXNorth.com’s owner, Andrew Stremplar, and Ms Thompson had also “successfully applied” to the Department of Immigration for work permits for Dwight McCoy and a Matthew Henderson to work at Personal Touch Pharmacy.
“A letter was seized, sent from attorney Sean Callender on behalf of the pharmacy, in relation to McCoy and Henderson, to the Department of Immigration, confirming to the said Department that Rx.North.com supplies the pharmacy with medication which was then exported outside of the Bahamas,” the Court of Appeal said.
“Further, the bank account of [Thompson] was used by McCoy and Henderson to pay the rent of the warehouse and other expenses.”
The Court of Appeal verdict also revealed that Ms Thompson was twice warned she was selling counterfeit pharmaceutical products, but she simply ‘brushed off’ the advice.
“The respondent was warned in 2006 by Dr Marvin Smith (a pharmaceutical expert) that information was circulating about her selling counterfeit drugs,” the verdict said. “The respondent nonchalantly thanked him for the information.
“The respondent was also told by Mr Carol Sands, a fellow pharmacist and the duly authorised supplier or Lipitor, while visiting the [Personal Touch] Pharmacy, that the Lipitor she had on her pharmacy’s shelf had counterfeit packaging.
“Again, the respondent nonchalantly thanked him for the information.”
Ms Thompson declined to comment during her police interview, and she was charged with two counts - conspiracy to abet fraud by false pretences, and abetment of fraud by false pretences.
Both were breaches of the Penal Code, but the Magistrate at the first trial ruled that the Attorney General’s Office had not proven its case against Ms Thompson because there was no direct evidence to show she participated in the conspiracy.
The Court of Appeal, though, overturned this, ruling that there was significant circumstantial evidence against Ms Thompson.
“In the instant case there was a sufficient nexus between [Thompson], the owner of the pharmacy, and McCoy and RxNorth.com from which an agreement to ship drugs to Miami could be inferred,” the Court of Appeal concluded.
“There were several bits of evidence tending to show that the respondent was attempting to pass off counterfeit drugs as genuine.”
As a result, the Appeal Court has sent the case back to be heard by another magistrate. Garvin Gaskin appeared for the Attorney General’s Office, and Harvey Tynes QC and his daughter represented Ms Thompson.
Tribune Business has reported on the RxNorth.com case extensively in the past, with Andrew Stremplar currently serving a 48-month sentence in a US federal prison.
Papers filed in the south Florida district court in late 2012 as part of his guilty plea disclosed that Personal Touch Pharmacy was used for an 18-month scheme to ship prescription drugs into the US that were not approved by the Federal Drug Administration (FDA).
That made their export from the Bahamas illegal, The documents agreed between Strempler and the US said: ““Personal Touch Pharmacy was the trade name used by a pharmacist who was licensed by the Grand Bahama Port Authority to operate a pharmacy in the Bahamas, and to import and export prescription drugs.
“Strempler paid $4,000 a month for the use of the Personal Touch name and the pharmacist’s license to ship medicine into the Bahamas, and then ship the medicine back out. Strempler hired a manager and staff for the Personal Touch facility.”
The agreed statement said documents obtained from Personal Touch’s manager showed prescription drugs were obtained from nations such as Australia and Turkey, which were not approved by the FDA.
“Prescription drugs from foreign countries were shipped to the facility in the Bahamas according to detailed ‘Procedures for Orders Shipped to the Bahamas’,” the US court document said.
“Foreign suppliers were instructed to not refer to RxNorth or Mediplan on the shipping invoice, and specified that drugs must be shipped to the Bahamas so that there were no stopovers in Canada or the US.
“Workers at Personal Touch were instructed not to use arriving inventory to fulfill prescriptions until Strempler reviewed and approved the labels and packaging on drugs that Personal Touch received from the foreign suppliers.”
Staff at the Bahamian pharmacy filled orders using a computer system linked to RxNorth in Canada. Orders were shipped in bulk from the Bahamas to drop shippers in the UK and Netherlands Antilles, who delivered the orders to individual customers.