Canadian pharmacy to be fined millions for illegal imports

HELENA, Mont. — An online pharmacy that bills itself as Canada’s largest is expected to be fined $34 million Friday for importing counterfeit cancer drugs and other unapproved pharmaceuticals into the United States, a sentence that one advocacy group called too light for such a heinous crime.

Canada Drugs has filled millions of prescriptions by offering itself as a safe alternative for patients to save money on expensive drugs, and its founder, Kristian Thorkelson, has been hailed as an industry pioneer for starting the company in 2001.

But U.S. prosecutors say Canada Drugs’ business model is based entirely on illegally importing unapproved and misbranded drugs not just from Canada, but from all over the world. The company has made at least $78 million through illegal imports, including two that were counterfeit versions of the cancer drugs Avastin and Altuzan that had no active ingredient, prosecutors said.

After more than two years of struggling to get the international company to appear in U.S. court to face the felony charges, Canada Drugs and Thorkelson, struck a plea deal with prosecutors late last year.

On Friday, a judge in Missoula, Montana, will decide whether to approve federal prosecutors’ recommended sentences that include $29 million forfeited, $5 million in fines and five years’ probation for Canada Drugs. The recommendation for Thorkelson is six months’ house arrest, five years’ probation and a $250,000 fine.

Canada Drugs also will permanently cease the sale of all unapproved, misbranded and counterfeit drugs and will surrender all of the domain names for the myriad websites it used to sell the drugs, under the deal.

U.S. District Judge Dana Christensen has the final say in the sentences, and an advocacy group is urging the judge to impose harsher penalties to deter future crimes.

“Counterfeiting oncology medications is a nearly untraceable and heinous health care crime,” Shabbir Imber Safdar, executive director of the Partnership for Safe Medicines, wrote in a letter to the judge. “You put saline in a bottle, and when the cancer patient takes it, there is no evidence in the patient of the crime.”

Safdar said Thorkelson should receive prison time and that Thorkelson’s and Canada Drugs’ pharmacy licenses should be surrendered. The group also wants Canada Drugs to give up all of it internet domain names, including ones not named in the plea deal, to prevent the company from continuing to sell misbranded and counterfeit medicine.

“We feel that being a part of a scheme to sell Americans fake cancer drugs while you profit from it should be sufficient grounds for a long-term revocation of a pharmacist’s license,” Safdar wrote.

Neither Safdar nor two of Canada Drugs’ and Thorkelson’s attorneys returned messages seeking comment Thursday.

Federal prosecutors wrote in court documents that the recommended sentence is appropriate.

“The United States believes that the above-referenced sentence in an appropriate one reflecting the seriousness of Thorkelson’s conduct, the need for just punishment and adequate deterrence to future criminal conduct,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Chad Spraker and Special Assistant U.S. Attorney Paul Joseph wrote.

The case is being handled in the U.S. state of Montana, where Canada Drugs bought another company for its drug inventory and customer list when it was expanding in 2009. Canada Drugs continued to deposit money into that company’s Montana bank account from doctors’ purchase of the illegally imported drugs before the proceeds were shipped to offshore accounts in the Caribbean, prosecutors said.

The company and two overseas subsidiaries agreed to plead guilty to introducing misbranded drugs into interstate commerce, and the subsidiaries also agreed to plead guilty to selling counterfeit drugs.

Thorkelson agreed to plead guilty to knowing about and concealing a felony crime.

Just Posted

Cannabis facility proposed for Clearwater County

Cannabis production facility proposed south of Caroline would produce 30,000 kg of cannabis a year

Two Central Alberta country singers are finalists in career-launching contest

They will attend music industry ‘boot camp’ this summer

Transit changes to aid Burman University students

An additional evening trip and student bus passes to be in place by fall

WATCH: Province, Maskwacis Cree Nations sign educational agreement

Funding and support will help the First Nations develop a Cree-based curriculum

WATCH: Red Deer celebrates World Refugee Day

The Central Alberta Refugee Effort hosted multiple events around Red Deer Wednesday

New Jersey Devils forward Taylor Hall wins Hart Trophy as NHL MVP

LAS VEGAS — Taylor Hall has won the Hart Trophy as the… Continue reading

Red Deer high school student psyched for SHAD

Lindsay Thurber’s Kaden Nivens will head to Newfoundland for the annual program in July

Red Deer College team tackles lack of Indigneous inclusion in research projects

A local college research team has completed a lengthy project examining the… Continue reading

Officials make case against parents accused of child abuse

RIVERSIDE, Calif. — Prosecutors made their case Wednesday against a Southern California… Continue reading

Manitoba educational assistant sentenced to 3 1/5 years for sex with student

WINNIPEG — A former educational assistant in Winnipeg has been sentenced to… Continue reading

Conservatives can ‘win anywhere,’ Scheer says in welcoming Richard Martel

OTTAWA — Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer welcomed the newest member of his… Continue reading

Fans grieve as detectives search for XXXTentacion’s killers

DEERFIELD BEACH, Fla. — For hours, the fans came in a steady… Continue reading

Canadian steel not a national security threat on its own: US commerce secretary

OTTAWA — The U.S. commerce secretary says Canada is not a national… Continue reading

Most Read


Five-day delivery plus unlimited digital access for $185 for 260 issues (must live in delivery area to qualify) Unlimited Digital Access 99 cents for the first four weeks and then only $15 per month Five-day delivery plus unlimited digital access for $15 a month