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Craigslist illegal drug trade exposed

May 16, 2011 12:00:00 AM PDT
Craigslist users post some 50 million classified ads every month. Among them are ads for pharmaceuticals and illegal drugs, including human growth hormones, steroids and even marijuana.

Over a three-month-long investigation, Eyewitness News found numerous postings in Southern California for prescription pain relievers, such as Oxycontin and Vicodin; anti-anxiety drugs like Valium and Xanax; along with erectile dysfunction medications Viagra, Cialis and Levitra. All are illegal to sell without a doctor's prescription and could be dangerous to consume.

One listing advertising Levitra had a bottle of 20 milligram tabs for sale for $140, or $6 per pill.

Such ads don't go without notice by authorities.

In a sting operation by members of the Health Authority Law Enforcement Task Force (HALT), a multi-jurisdictional, multi-agency unit that includes agents from the Los Angeles County Sheriff's and Health Services departments, an undercover agent posing as an interested buyer said a suspect tried to sell him a bottle of Levitra. The suspect was arrested on the spot.

When asked why he chose Craigslist to sell the medication, he responded simply, "It's free."

Investigators said they later determined the suspect stole some $64,000 worth of pills from his employer, a major healthcare provider, before trying to sell them on the website.

He has since been sentenced to six months in county jail.

"They are rolling the dice on whether or not law enforcement looks into it," sheriff's Sgt. Steve Opferman said. "You know they are doing this pretty much out in the open. They're putting an ad in the paper, so they are really begging to get caught. If we could monitor this every day, we could definitely do this on a daily basis."

Marijuana and other more dangerous drugs are often listed for sale under a variety of street names. For example, one Craigslist ad made reference to Tina Turner tickets. Tina Turner, or just Tina, are both street names for crystal meth.

HALT contacted the seller through the site and agreed to meet at a Bank of America building in Thousand Oaks where the suspect worked in security.

They arrested him after the undercover officer bought about a gram of methamphetamine right in front of the bank.

The bank fired the suspect. He has since pleaded not guilty to the criminal charges.

In a different case, authorities said surveillance tape shows a pharmacy tech stealing prescription medicines from behind the counter of a West Hollywood drugstore where he worked.

He was arrested at his Los Angeles home after about a two-month investigation. He was formally charged with burglary and grand theft for selling a stolen prescription medication on Craigslist.

Although, the suspect has pleaded not guilty, he told Eyewitness News he did sell the prescriptions and why he did.

"Money," he said. "My family needed certain kind of stuff and that's what I needed."

Complicating the situation, law enforcement and health officials said many of the drugs sold online are counterfeit, are manufactured overseas and people don't really know what they're buying.

"These drugs could have adverse affects on people and they cause dangers down the line," said Erick Aguilar, a county deputy health officer. "Some of them, especially the controlled substances, are controlled because of their potential of being addictive."

Though Craigslist has a list of prohibited items for sale, including illegal and prescription drugs, authorities said it's nearly impossible to stop people from selling illegal items because posting advertisements are free and largely unmonitored.

Craigslist did not return requests seeking comment.


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