Aug. 22--A Fox Chapel couple traveled to Europe five or six times a year to buy
prescription drugs wholesale and smuggle them home for sale at a family-owned
pharmacy, prosecutors say.
Robin W. Simon, 45, pleaded guilty Thursday in federal court to unlawfully
importing the drugs and will be sentenced on Dec. 20. The U.S. Attorney's Office
declined to say why her husband, Steven Simon, 48, was not charged.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Shaun Sweeney said the couple paid a drug wholesaler in
Ireland at least $1.4 million for medication that would have cost "substantially
more" if purchased from wholesalers in the United States.
One frequently ordered drug was Xeloda, a treatment for breast, colon and
colorectal cancer, he said.
The Simon family has owned Stanton Negley Drug Co. in Highland Park for more
than 30 years. A pharmacist there referred questions to Paul Boas, Robin Simon's
attorney, who could not be reached.
Donald W. Light, a fellow at Safra Center for Ethics at Harvard University, said
it's difficult to estimate how much profit the pharmacy realized from European
For specialty drugs such as cancer medications, the European price can be as low
as one-third of the U.S. price, said Light, who studies the pharmaceutical
"The U.S. is the only affluent country that allows companies to set their own
prices -- particularly for cancer drugs -- as high as they want," he said.
Medicare is required to reimburse companies at those prices for any drug the
Food and Drug Administration approves, and most private insurers follow suit,
Most European countries have drug review boards that determine the value of
drugs and set recommendations that insurers tend to follow, he said.
Federal law makes it illegal for people to buy drugs in Europe and bring them
into the United States -- even drugs made in the United States and exported, he
Sweeney said the couple began ordering from United Drug Wholesalers in Ireland
in 2000, shipping drugs to their business. Customs officials intercepted a
package in October 2000, and the FDA warned the couple that they were breaking
the law, he said.
They were not charged with a crime or fined, but that December, "the Simons
began to travel frequently to Europe, where they would take delivery of
shipments from United Drug at the hotels at which they stayed," Sweeney said.
In seven years, they bought prescription drugs worth about $1.4 million from the
Irish company, he said.
In July 2007, a hotel maid in Portugal spotted discarded packaging from a drug
shipment and notified police.
When the Simons learned Portuguese police and the Irish Medicines Board were
investigating, they stopped ordering from United Drug and started buying from
Heathrow in the United Kingdom, Sweeney said.
Customs officials intercepted two packages in September 2008.
A search of the pharmacy and the Simons' home turned up documents detailing
purchases, he said.
Roche Laboratories in New Jersey manufactured the drugs.
Investigators found no patients who were harmed by the illegally imported drugs.
Brian Bowling is a Trib Total Media staff writer. Reach him at 412-325-4301 or
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