L.A.-to-Mexico prescription drug ring busted, authorities say
Fifteen people -- including a physician, a pharmacy manager and several gang members -- have been arrested in an unusual alleged drug conspiracy: smuggling prescription medications obtained in Los Angeles into Mexico.
Among the arrestees was Tyron Reece, an Inglewood physician who admitted regularly writing fraudulent prescriptions for 100 tablets each of three commonly abused medications, including hydrocodone, a powerful painkiller, according to an affidavit filed in federal court in support of a search warrant.
Reece also gave investigators lists of names of purported patients for whom he wrote the phony prescriptions, the affidavit said. He sold the phony prescriptions in exchange for $60 cash, according to an indictment filed in federal court.
The ring, allegedly organized by Anthony Wright, 67, filled the prescriptions at Dabney's Pharmacy in South Los Angeles and smuggled them for more than a year to pharmacies in Tijuana. Wright also was charged with conspiracy to distribute controlled substances but remained at large Friday, officials said.
“It was a unique kind of smuggling operation, one that we haven't seen," said Lauren Mack, a spokeswoman for U.S. Immigration & Customs Enforcement, which was involved in the operation along with the California attorney general's office and other agencies.
"We normally see people going to Mexico buying the pharmaceuticals over there and trying to bring them back to the U.S. to sell here," Mack said. "It was unique that this was a case where drugs were actually being taken into Mexico."
She said the pills were then sold for $7 to $10 each to people who traveled to Tijuana from the U.S. to feed their addictions.
“There's really not a market for those kinds of pain pills for people who live in Mexico,” she said. “They are primarily purchased in Mexico by U.S. residents who go over there specifically to buy."
Since 2009, Dabney's Pharmacy had filled the phony prescriptions for members of the alleged smuggling ring but failed to report the transactions to the attorney general's office, as required by law.
"Prescription drug diversion is a growing challenge for law enforcement, and one increasingly coordinated by well-funded criminal organizations," said state Atty. Gen. Kamala Harris.
In all, the affidavit said, authorities seized more than 18,000 pills during the operation. About $66,200 in cash was taken from operators trying to reenter the United States, officials said.
Wright has claimed to earn $1,000 a day off the smuggling operation, officials said. They estimated that the ring brought about $400,000 into the U.S. from Mexico in just six months.
Also charged in the indictment was Charles Dabney, the manager of the pharmacy, who allegedly filled prescriptions presented by Wright at a rate of about 90 a week.
-- Lisa Girion and Kate Mather