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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Viagra Smugglers Caught in the Act




Four U.S. businessmen face up to five years in prison after being convicted of scheming to smuggle 70,000 doses of the impotence drug Viagra to Russia.


A U.S. federal agent - assigned to an organized crime task force targeting Russian crooks - went undercover as "Vladimir," a purported Russian mobster and owner of the Miami nightclub where the deal to unload the Viagra to unidentified Russians took place.


Prosecutors in the case said the pills were destined for the black market, although Viagra is available legally in Russia without a prescription.


Jon Freeman, a lawyer from Hallandale, Florida, pleaded guilty to conspiracy and agreed to cooperate in the prosecution of four others: wholesaler Victor Penafiel, middleman Arthur Goodman, shipper Lachman Raichandani and broker Matthew Scott.


Each of the four faces up to five years in prison and a $250,000 fine after being convicted Thursday.


Defense attorneys conceded the group may have broken some law, but not the one charged in the federal indictment - conspiracy to distribute Viagra without a wholesaler's license - because one of them had the license, The Associated Press reported.


The sting operation began in 1998, shortly after Russia legalized Viagra, and the businessmen hoped to earn $1.6 million in the deal.


But the accused smugglers stood little chance of earning their millions in a country where the average monthly salary is around $50 and few of the estimated 7 million impotent men - 10 percent of Russia's male population - can af ford the expensive sexual pick-me-up Viagra offers.


While Viagra costs roughly $10 per pill in the United States, in Russia the drug costs the ruble equivalent of $15 and $16.


Because of the cost of the drug, U.S.-based companies have now turned to different marketing schemes, offering Russians a generic form of Viagra - simply called sildenafil citrate, the active ingredient in Viagra - for around $4.40 per tablet.


To keep up with black market and generic competitors, some Russian pharmacies are offering a special "buy two get one free" Viagra deal.


Still, the price assures that sex for Russia's impotent men will only happen on "special occasions" - tablets are to be taken up to 30 minutes before intercourse and last no longer than 24 hours. A daily Viagra regime for only one month would cost nine times the average yearly Russian salary.


In July 1998, the Russian government allowed the anti-impotence drug to be marketed in Russia, but only with a doctor's prescription. However, this is largely overlooked at local pharmacies or even street kiosks, with only a scornful glare from the cashier, but no questions asked.


The United States Food and Drug Administration, or FDA, however, warns against giving out Viagra without a prescription, and worries that it could be abused by men who don't really need it.