The largest theft of prescription drugs in United States history, as described by the authorities, was intricately orchestrated and meticulously executed.
There were several round-trip flights between New York and Miami. There were leased tractor-trailers and upscale rental cars. The tools used to drill a hole in a roof and disable part of a security system came from a Home Depot in Flushing, Queens.
The late-night operation lasted five hours, with the thieves descending into an Eli Lillywarehouse in Enfield, Conn., with ropes and using a forklift to make off with $80 million worth of drugs, which were loaded into a truck and eventually driven to Florida. (Lilly placed the drugs’ value at over $70 million.)
The federal authorities say it was the largest theft in an escalating pattern of thefts of prescription drugs from warehouses and trucks around the country. Despite all the planning, it came undone, apparently, when one of the men touched a water bottle in the warehouse and left it behind.
On Thursday, Amaury Villa, 37, and Amed Villa, 46, his brother, both Cuban citizens living in Miami who have extensive arrest records, were charged in connection with theMarch 2010 theft of drugs, including Zyprexa, Cymbalta, Prozac and Gemzar, from Eli Lilly. The drugs’ uses include psychiatric and cancer treatment. The brothers were indicted in federal court in New Haven on conspiracy and theft charges; several others were indicted in Miami in the theft.
All told, at least 12 people were charged in several states in connection with a string of thefts of drugs, cigarettes and liquor in recent years, which included the one from Eli Lilly, a theft from a GlaxoSmithKline warehouse in Virginia, and shipments stolen at truck stops in several states.
Amed Villa was also charged in Illinois, in the theft of over 3,500 cases of cigarettes, worth over $8 million, from a Peoria warehouse.
Amaury Villa is in jail in Orange County, Fla., on unrelated charges. It was not clear on Thursday if either Villa brother had a lawyer in connection with the new charges.
“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 David B. Fein, the United States attorney for Connecticut. “Today’s arrests are an important step in ensuring the integrity of our drug supply chain.”
Officials said they believed that the drugs stolen from Enfield had not been sold and had all been recovered in a Florida warehouse.
In many thefts, however, stolen drugs end up in stores, often after being stored in unsafe conditions. Eli Lilly, which was insured for the theft, said the drugs would be destroyed when they were no longer needed as evidence.
According to the indictment, Amaury Villa flew from Miami to La Guardia Airport in January 2010, rented an Infiniti QX56 at the airport and stayed at Hyatt hotels in Jersey City and then Windsor, Conn., north of Hartford and near Enfield. He then returned to Florida. In February, according to the indictment, he was linked to a lease agreement for two tractor-trailers. Twice more in the next two months, he flew to New York or Hartford.
On March 12, 2010, the day before the burglary, two people who were not named in the indictment bought “a particular combination of tools” at a Home Depot in Flushing. That night, Mr. Villa flew from Miami to La Guardia, rented a Cadillac Escalade and drove up to the Hyatt in Windsor.
Starting about 10:30 p.m. March 13, the indictment said, the thieves used the tools that had been purchased at Home Depot to cut a hole in the roof of the warehouse, and lowered themselves with ropes. Over the next five hours, they used a forklift inside the warehouse to load the drugs into a tractor-trailer.
At some point, the authorities said, Amed Villa touched the water bottle. The authorities did not say if he had left behind fingerprints or DNA, but both he and his brother had burglary convictions in Florida and were presumably fingerprinted when they were arrested there.
The tractor-trailer left the warehouse around 3:40 a.m. on March 14. Amaury Villa checked out of his hotel room in Windsor, and his rental car passed through the southbound toll plaza on the Bronx-Whitestone Bridge around 11:35 a.m. On March 15, he flew back to Miami.
Edward Sagebiel, a spokesman for Eli Lilly, characterized the investigation, which Lilly security helped, as a “huge success.”
Still, he said: “In and of itself, it’s not going to eliminate the criminal threat around this issue.”