Md. man profited from drugs meant for Africa's needy
Tuesday, October 20, 2009
A Maryland man admitted Monday in federal court that he stole medication intended for poor people in Africa and sold them for a profit.
Joseph Egbe, 44, of Gwynn Oak is the owner of e-Meditech, a charitable group that had a contract with the Catholic Medical Mission Board to distribute the drugs. Egbe made more than $10,000 by selling some of them to a Baltimore pharmacist, who then repackaged and resold them, federal authorities said.
Egbe pleaded guilty to misbranding of pharmaceuticals in U.S. District Court in Baltimore. His attorney, William E. Tabot, could not immediately be reached to comment.
The drugs Egbe sold included those used to treat the common cough as well as medications used for patients with breast cancer, stomach ulcers and diabetes. The drugs had been donated to the Catholic charity and were supposed to be sent to Cameroon.
Officials with the Catholic Medical Mission Board, which is headquartered in New York and has an office in the District, said they have been working with the Department of Justice and the Food and Drug Administration since May 2008 on the investigation. The group receives millions of dollars worth of donations from pharmaceutical and medical supply companies and sends them to impoverished areas in dozens of countries.
"We send a lot of medication, but even one bottle that doesn't end up where we had intended it to is distressing to us," said Barbara Wright, a spokeswoman for the board. "There are so many personal stories attached to the medicine we deliver. It's never-ending."
Wright recalled a trip she made to a clinic in Honduras. She said the doctors and nurses told her that few people went there because there was no medicine to treat them. However, when a woman arrived and said her baby's "chest was on fire," the clinic was able to treat the child for pneumonia.
According to court documents, Egbe orchestrated a scheme with Pamela Arrey, a Maryland pharmacist who opened and operated two Medicine Shoppe pharmacies in Baltimore.
Between 2005 and 2008, authorities said, Egbe took some shipments of the donated drugs, attached labels with false expiration dates to them and sold them to Arrey. Arrey wrote several checks to Egbe totaling more than $10,000.
Arrey has been indicted on charges including health-care fraud, conspiracy to misbrand drugs and sell donated drugs, and aggravated identity theft. They are pending in federal court.