TAMPA — A Bradenton businessman made more than $1.1 million while smuggling thousands of knockoff Viagra and Cialis pills into the Tampa Bay area from China, federal authorities charge.
Now, the romance is over, and instead of a beachside bathtub, he's facing possible prison time.
Robert Ernest Lohr, 72, isn't a pharmacist, and his Bradenton shop isn't licensed as a pharmacy. That didn't stop him from accepting prescriptions and filling them with unapproved drugs, according to a signed plea agreement filed Monday in U.S. District Court in Tampa.
His website promised to improve lives "one little blue pill at a time," offering the two brand-name erectile dysfunction pills at discount rates of less than $6 each. He also advertised prescription drugs for cholesterol, high blood pressure, depression and acid reflux.
Government chemists found that his counterfeits contained the same active ingredients found in Viagra and Cialis — sildenafil citrate or tadalafil — but not in a manner consistent with the authentic products.
And they detected those prescription compounds even in his over-the-counter "herbal" products, sold under names such as "Maxman" and "Vigour."
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration warns consumers against purchasing drugs from overseas suppliers, noting that the FDA cannot guarantee safety or efficacy. It reports 3 percent of online pharmacies reviewed by the National Association of Boards of Pharmacy are in compliance with U.S. pharmacy laws and standards.
Lohr declined to comment.
From 2009 through September, he owned and operated a business on Florida Boulevard in Bradenton alternately called Canadian American Drug Club or American Drug Club.
Customs agents, starting in 2012, seized four shipments to Lohr from China containing a total of 8,100 counterfeit Viagra pills, the court record states. One packing slip described the contents as "toy parts." Agents also intercepted 500 counterfeit Cialis metal pill box containers.
In the scrutiny that followed, a joint effort by the FDA and Homeland Security Investigations, federal investigators posed as customers and made five undercover purchases, then submitted the products for analysis.
The money trail led to $926,466 in alleged proceeds, much of it kept by Lohr in an Edward Jones Investments account. Under terms of the plea agreement, Lohr would forfeit that money but keep his Sarasota residence.
He has agreed to plead guilty to a single count of conspiracy to smuggle goods into the United States, which carries a sentence of up to five years.
No court hearings have been set yet.
Contact Patty Ryan at [email protected] or (813) 226-3382.