Eli Lilly pharmaceutical heist
Two brothers, Amaury Villa, 37, and Amed Villa, 46, both of Cuba and living in Miami, have been charged in the theft. Both will be charged in Connecticut, federal authorities announced during a press conference.
According to officials, a federal grand jury in New Haven returned an indictment charging the brothers with theft of interstate shipment and conspiracy. The indictment was unsealed on Thursday following their arrest in Florida.
According to the arrest warrant, the brothers entered the facility on the night of March 14 by scaling an exterior wall and cutting a hole in the roof of the facility with tools they purchased at a Home Depot in Flushing, NY.
Once they rappelled inside on a rope, they disabled parts of the alarm system and loaded about 49 pallets of pharmaceuticals, including antidepressants, anti psychotic and hyperactivity drugs, bipolar depression medication, a blood thinner and cancer treatments, onto tractor-trailers using the facility's forklift.
The warrant states Amid Villa left a water bottle behind during the heist.
During a press conference announcing the arrests, U.S. Attorney David Fein said, "This brazen crime was the biggest theft in Connecticut history and in the pharmaceutical industry countrywide"
Amaury Villa, 37, and his brother, Amed Villa, 46, were indicted for the theft of about $80 million in high-value pharmaceuticals from Eli Lilly's Enfield warehouse on the night of March 13-14, 2010.
The some or all of the stolen drugs, which included stuff like the anti-psychotic Zyprexa and anti-depressants like Prozac and Cymbalta, were apparently recovered from a Florida storage facility.Amed Villa has also been charged in connection with the January 2010 theft of 3,500 cases of cigarettes (valued at more than $8 million) from a warehouse in Tazewell County, Illinois.
According to the federal indictment, Amaury Villa allegedly made a visit to Connecticut in January 2010 to check out the Eli Lilly warehouse and was captured looking in the door of the building by a security camera.
The day before the March burglary, the Villa brothers' accomplices apparently bought a special saw at a Home Depot in Flushing, N.Y. It was the kind of tool used to cut into the roof of the Eli Lilly warehouse.
A company listing Amaury Villa as its agent also leased two tractor trailer trucks, at least one of which is believed to have been used in the Enfield theft.
They also rented a Caddilac Escalade at Bradley International Airport to tool around in, and rented a room at the Hyatt Summerfield Suites in Windsor.
After breaking in through the Enfield warehouse roof, the thieves disabled the building's security system and used an Eli Lilly forklift to load up the drugs on the tractor trailer.
Inside the warehouse, according to the indictment, Amed Villa apparently touched a water bottle and left it there, apparently a mistake that helped lead the FBI to him and his brother.
Several other unnamed accomplices were referred to in the indictment. Those individuals haven't yet been charged in the case.
The brothers have been charged with conspiracy and theft from an interstate shipment, and face potential sentences of 45 years each if convicted.
Amaury Villa, 37, and his brother, Amed Villa, 46, Cuban citizens living in Miami, are described by authorities as members of a sophisticated group of warehouse burglars and truck-hijackers responsible for thefts of large quantities of pharmaceutical drugs and other goods along the East Coast and in the Midwest. Federal authorities said they smashed the ring following a three-year, undercover FBI investigation.
Prior to the Enfield theft, the Villa brothers and others not identified by authorities traveled repeatedly from Miami to the Hartford area, apparently to spy on the 70,000-square-foot warehouse on Freshwater Boulevard. A Lilly security camera recorded one of the thieves peering through the front door of the warehouse three months before the theft.On the night of March 13, 2010, and into the early hours of March 14, they are accused of cutting a hole in the warehouse roof and descending into the interior on ropes. Inside, they disabled parts of the security system and, over five hours, used a warehouse forklift to load 49 pallets stacked with boxes of pharmaceuticals into a trailer truck, federal authorities said.
The thieves leased the truck specifically for the Enfield heist, authorities said, and used the warehouse loading dock to fill it with cases of Gemzar, a chemotherapy drug for lung cancer patients; the antipsychotic Zyprexa; and Cymbalta and Prozac, used to treat depression and anxiety.
"As far as we know, this brazen crime was the biggest theft in the history of Connecticut and the largest theft of pharmaceuticals in the United States," Connecticut U.S. Attorney David B. Fein said Thursday.
The Villa brothers are charged with theft and conspiracy in a federal indictment focused exclusively on the planning and execution of the Enfield warehouse heist. Amaury Villa and 10 others are charged in a separate Florida indictment that accuses them of selling and conspiring to sell stolen pharmaceuticals.
In yet another related case, federal authorities in Illinois said Thursday that they had charged Amed Villa with the theft in January of more than 3,500 cases of cigarettes, valued at more than $8 million, from a warehouse in Peoria.
And authorities in New Jersey have charged a dozen people associated with the same ring with conspiracy to steal and sell millions more in prescription andover-the-counter drugs.
Fein said that "virtually all" of the drugs stolen in Enfield were recovered in a warehouse in South Florida, but he would not elaborate specifically on the sale or attempted sale of pharmaceuticals stolen by the Villa brothers or others accused with them in Florida.
"The cargo theft of pharmaceuticals is on the rise, imposing a terrible cost on the industry and a danger to the public," Fein said.
Industry experts have said that the numbers of thefts such as the Lilly job in Enfield have grown sharply as sophisticated criminals try to feed growing black market demand for high-priced prescription medications, including anti-depressants, blood thinners and insulin.
The Enfield warehouse is one of three national distribution centers that Lilly operates.
The theft there had similarities to hits on pharmaceutical warehouses a year earlier near Richmond, Va.; Memphis, Tenn.; and Olive Branch, Miss. Thieves there cut through roofs and sometimes used trapeze-style rigging to get inside and disable alarm systems. In some cases, they spray-painted security camera lenses; in others, they stole disks from the security recording devices.
Federal authorities in Florida said the group associated with the Villa brothers was responsible for the theft of truckloads of pharmaceuticals from truck stops in Pennsylvania, Ohio and Tennessee and from a GlaxoSmithKline warehouse in Virginia.
The brothers are each charged with one count of conspiracy to commit theft from an interstate shipment and four counts of theft from an interstate shipment. The conspiracy charge carries a maximum sentence of five years. Each of the other charges carries a maximum sentence of 10 years.
The Connecticut indictment, returned March 12 and unsealed Thursday, detailed evidence of travel between Florida and Connecticut, hotel stays in Windsor, the purchase of tools and the rental of cars and trucks in the run-up to the burglary.
Amaury Villa, sometimes accompanied by an unidentified associate, flew from Miami to LaGuardia Airport in New York or Bradley International Airport, where he rented cars. He booked rooms at least twice at the Hyatt Summerfield Suites in Windsor, including on the weekend of the theft.
On Jan. 9, 2010, Amaury Villa's associate was recorded by a warehouse security camera. On Feb. 22, the thieves received email confirmation of the lease of two tractor-trailer trucks to a business for which Amaury Villa is a registered agent.
Federal prosecutors said that for about 10 minutes beginning at 10:22 p.m. on March 13, 2010, the night the burglary began, Lilly warehouse security cameras captured images of more of the thieves. It was after 10:30 p.m. that the thieves — using tools purchased at a Home Depot store in Queens, N.Y — cut a hole in the roof, descended inside and disabled parts of the security system, federal authorities said.
At some point during the theft, the indictment said, "Amed Villa touched a water bottle previously stored within the Enfield warehouse and left that empty bottle inside the warehouse after he departed." Federal authorities would not say what they learned from an analysis of the bottle.
The indictment charges that the tractor-trailer left Lilly's property at 3:40 a.m. on March 14, 2010.
Fein said Thursday that it "disappeared into the night."
Later the same morning, Amaury Villa checked out of his hotel room in Windsor. His rental car was recorded passing through the southbound toll on the Whitestone Bridge in New York at 11:35 a.m. On March 15, according to the indictment, he flew back to Miami from LaGuardia.
The Villa brothers were arrested Thursday in Florida and are expected to be transported to Connecticut, where they will be presented at U.S. District Court.
The thieves disabled the alarm at the Eli Lilly & Co. warehouse early Sunday in Enfield, where they spent at least an hour loading pallets of drugs into a waiting vehicle at the warehouse's loading dock during a wind-whipped rainstorm, police said.
The thieves, whose identities remained unknown Tuesday, made off with enough drugs to fill at least one tractor-trailer, police said. They will probably end up on the black market, experts said.
"Just by the way it occurred, it appears that there were several individuals involved and that it was a very well planned-out and orchestrated operation," Enfield Police Chief Carl Sferrazza said. "It's not your run-of-the-mill home burglary, that's for sure."
The FBI has been called in to investigate. Authorities would not comment on whether the building had surveillance video or whether employees were being investigated.
Edward Sagebiel, a spokesman for Indianapolis-based Eli Lilly, placed the market value of the drugs at $70 million. They included the antidepressants Prozac and Cymbalta and the anti-psychotic Zyprexa, he said.
The warehouse contained no narcotics or painkillers, he said.The thieves probably had a buyer lined up — an online pharmacy or someone in South America or Asia, where drug regulations are lax — and could easily make $20 million from the heist, said Erik Gordon, a professor at the Ross School of Business at the University of Michigan who studies the health care industry and entrepreneurship.
Police were called early Sunday afternoon to the warehouse, in an industrial park in Enfield, a working-class town on the Massachusetts border.
Video: Massive heist They estimate the theft occurred several hours earlier as Enfield caught the edges of a nor'easter that battered the region with heavy rain and wind before dawn Sunday.
Sferrazza said officers determined one or more thieves scaled the exterior brick walls, cut the hole in the roof and rappelled inside with some sort of rope. There didn't appear to be any outside barriers to the building.Then, he said, they disabled the security alarms, opened a loading dock door and spent "an extended period of time" — likely a few hours — loading pallets of drugs into at least one vehicle.
No vehicles were reported stolen from the site or nearby, so it's believed they arrived with one or more vehicles large enough to transport the dozens and dozens of pallets of drugs, he said.
State Police sent in a trained dog in hopes of tracking the suspects' scents but were unsuccessful, police said.
"It has the appearances of a sophisticated, well-planned criminal action," said Sagebiel, describing the other missing products as "a mix of pharmaceutical products."
Zyprexa and Cymbalta were Eli Lilly's two best-selling drugs last year. Prozac was Lilly's first billion-dollar drug and the company's top seller before it lost patent protection several years ago.
The thefts will not cause any national shortages of the products, Sagebiel said.