The U.S. Treasury Department on Thursday sanctioned the Goldpharma Drug Trafficking and Money Laundering Organization (Goldpharma DTO/MLO) under the Kingpin Act, as well as eight Argentines and nine entities located in Argentina, Colombia, Canada, the U.K. and the Netherlands, for their roles in the organization.
The Buenos Aires-based organization operates virtually through a network of online “pharmacy” websites, selling both legitimate and clandestinely produced narcotics to customers without a prescription, according to the Treasury. Among the products sold by Goldpharma are oxycodone, hydrocodone and tramadol, all of which are controlled substances, the Treasury said.
Goldpharma sells the vast majority of its illicit opioids to customers in the U.S., the Treasury said, citing the 2019 National Drug Control Strategy report, which highlighted the need to address the role of drug-trafficking organizations fueling the U.S. opioid abuse epidemic. The report also noted the role of the Internet in providing a platform for such drug sales, urging a coordinated framework of relationships, laws, regulations and capabilities to combat them.
“The Goldpharma network illustrates the sophisticated tactics drug traffickers and money launderers use to capitalize on the Internet and online pharmacy sites to sell highly addictive illicit narcotics around the world,” said Treasury Under Secretary Sigal Mandelker.
The Treasury imposed sanctions on eight Argentines, including five who were indicted in 2018 in Wisconsin: Conrado Adolfo Frenzel, Jorge Alejandro Paura, Luciano Brunetti, Lucas Daniel Paura and Santiago Videmato. Frenzel, Jorge Paura and Videmato were arrested by Argentine authorities in March at Washington’s request, prosecutors said when unsealing a superseding indictment against the five men. The U.S. is seeking their extradition while local authorities pursue the two others, prosecutors said at the time.
“This prosecution underscores the federal government’s commitment to work with international partners like Argentina to shut down drug trafficking online,” said Matthew Krueger, U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of Wisconsin, on Thursday.
The Treasury also sanctioned three others — Sergio David Ferrari, Gaston Tomaghelli and Roberto Javier Perez Santoro — for their involvement in Goldpharma’s money laundering activities. Ferrari operates a network of entities in multiple countries, known as the “Smile Group,” which funnels the proceeds of Goldpharma’s narcotics sales back to Argentina, according to the Treasury. Several entities were also sanctioned, including Argentina-based Smile Technologies S.A., Colombia-based SmileWallet S.A.S., U.K.-based Smile Property & Travel Ltd., Canada-based Smile Technologies Canada Ltd. and Netherlands-based SmileWallet B.V.
Seven U.S. companies owned or controlled by members of Goldpharma were also blocked as part of Thursday’s designations, including two companies registered in Delaware, three in Texas and two others in Florida. Four condominiums in the Miami, Fla. area linked to Delaware-listed Oyster Investments LLC were blocked as well, the Treasury said.
President Donald Trump in October 2017 declared the opioid crisis a public health emergency, but the administration has struggled to address the problem, according to health experts. Last month, Trump pledged to continue the battle against opioid abuse “until our job is done,” saying it is “a big problem” but that the administration is handling it.
Nearly 48,000 people died in 2017 due to overdoses involving opioids, according to data cited by the National Institute on Drug Abuse, a federal scientific research institute organized by the National Institutes of Health. Though prescription drugs initially accounted for most deaths, fentanyl now is the main killer, the data show.