The second of two Florida men identified as the “kingpins” in a massive scheme to supply counterfeit HIV medication to U.S. pharmacies, suppliers, and patients has pleaded guilty.
Armando Herrera pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to introduce adulterated and misbranded drugs into interstate commerce, the Department of Justice announced earlier this week.
The scheme was to find discarded HIV pill bottles, fill them with fake meds, and reseal them before selling them to unsuspecting victims.
According to the DOJ, Herrera and his co-conspirator, Lazaro Roberto Hernandez, set up companies in Florida, Texas, Washington, and California, which they used to primarily distribute adulterated HIV medication, along with other drugs, to wholesale pharmaceutical suppliers, which then sold the bogus drugs to pharmacies where they were distributed to patients. They also created false documentation to make it look like the drugs were acquired legitimately.
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Hernandez pleaded guilty to his role in the scheme in April and was sentenced to 180 months in prison in July.
In 2021, biopharmaceutical company Gilead Sciences warned that knock-off versions of its Biktarvy and Descovy medications were circulated through pharmacies due to unauthorized distributors. Both medications are used to treat people living with HIV. Descovy is also used as pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) to prevent HIV-negative people from contracting the virus.
The operation allegedly involved illegally acquiring pills manufactured by Gilead and repackaging them in used bottles purchased for cash, often from people who were homeless or suffering from drug addiction. The bottles were then resealed to appear unopened and then sold. Adulterated pills were found to contain potentially dangerous drugs, like the powerful antipsychotic Seroquel.
In June 2022, Hernandez was arrested and charged with distributing more than $230 million in adulterated HIV drugs. The following October, Gilead identified Herrera and Hernandez as the “kingpins” in the scheme.
“Gilead’s ongoing investigation revealed that these two kingpins directed the initial sale of the counterfeits through suppliers created solely to sell counterfeit medications,” the company said in a statement at the time.
According to the DOJ, Herrera is scheduled to be sentenced on December 21 and faces up to five years in prison.