Authorities Uncover Largest Theft of Prescription Drugs in US History

More than 75 million dollars worth of stolen medications was recently recovered from a Florida warehouse.

More than 75 million dollars worth of stolen medications was recently recovered from a Florida warehouse.

A huge pharmaceutical mystery worthy of the Mission: Impossible movie series came to a close recently with the arrest of 2 Cuban brothers after a long investigation coined “Operation Southern Hospitality” by authorities.

The brothers, Amaury and Amed Villa, were indicted in New Haven, Connecticut on conspiracy and theft charges for a crime that occurred more than 2 years ago at an Eli Lilly warehouse in Enfield, Connecticut.

On March 13, 2010, the Villa brothers allegedly cut a hole in the Lilly warehouse roof, disabled an alarm system, and rappelled themselves down into the facility. With the help of a forklift and a tractor-trailer, the brothers managed to make off with an estimated $80 million worth of drugs in less than 5 hours, according to reports, which were eventually transported to Florida.

The stolen medications, including Zyprexa (olanzapine), Cymbalta (duloxetine), Prozac (fluoxetine), and Gemzar (gemcitabine for injection), were recovered in a Florida warehouse. Authorities say the brothers would have escaped undetected if it weren’t for a water bottle that Amed Villa touched at the scene of the crime.

Eleven people have been formally charged with possession and sale of narcotics in connection with the Connecticut heist, according to MSNBC. A total of 22 people, part of the brothers’ Miami-based ring, were charged by federal authorities in New Jersey, Connecticut, and Miami for other robberies from cargo at truck stops in Pennsylvania, Ohio, and Tennessee, and from a GlaxoSmithKline warehouse in Virginia.

“For several years now, cargo theft in the pharmaceutical sector has been on the rise, exacting a terrible cost on the industry and danger to the public,” said US Attorney David Fein, in an article appearing in The New York Times on the day of the arrests. “Today’s arrests are an important step in ensuring the integrity of our drug supply chain.”

Drugs like those stolen from the Lilly warehouse in Connecticut and those in the cargo thefts pose a real danger to consumers, especially if they aren't properly stored, refrigerated, or handled before they are used by patients.

This string of thefts is particularly notable because the drugs stolen by the thieves are not the usual targets, addictive painkillers like Oxycodone or Fetanyl. The drugs at the center of the Miami-based investigation consist of costly specialty drugs that treat chronic conditions such as cancer, arthritis, Crohn’s disease, and autoimmune disorders. Other drugs targeted in the cargo thefts included antidepressants, antipsychotics, and medications to treat acne and epilepsy.