A Laguna Hills man who pocketed more than $2.5 million illegally selling flea powder and other pet medications online without prescriptions pleaded guilty Monday to federal charges.
Sean Lawrence Gerson, 49, who owns Vaccination Services in Lake Forest, admitted illegally dispensing two drugs — Comfortis, an anti-flea medication, and Ciprofloxacin, an antibiotic for dogs and cats commonly used to treat skin, respiratory and urinary tract infections, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office.
“Prescription drugs are simply too dangerous to allow their sale over the internet by unscrupulous fraudsters,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Joe Johns said outside court. The spread of antibiotic-resistant bacteria is only made worse by the illegal sale of animal drugs without a veterinarian’s prescription.”
Gerson pleaded guilty to smuggling, allowing into interstate commerce misbranded animal prescription drugs with the intent to defraud and mislead the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, and a misdemeanor charge of distribution and sale of an unregistered pesticide. Vaccination Services also pleaded guilty Monday to the same federal charges.
The misbranded drugs — meaning they were sold without a valid prescription from a veterinarian — were Comfortis and Ciprofloxacin, a powerful antibiotic commonly called Cipro” that can be used in dogs and cats to treat skin, respiratory and urinary tract infections.
According to court documents, Gerson sold Comfortis that was designed for the South African market and was not approved for distribution in the United States. Federal law prohibits the importation and sale of veterinary medicines that have not been approved by the FDA and U.S. Environmental Protection Agency for use in this country.
Neither a veterinarian nor a pharmacist, Gerson used several now-defunct websites — including fleastuff.com, mydoghasfleas.xyz and fleaandtickstuff.com — to market prescription animal products to buyers without valid prescriptions, prosecutors said.
Gerson pleaded guilty before U.S. District Judge R. Gary Klausner, who is scheduled to sentence Gerson and his company on Dec. 11. In his plea agreement, prosecutors and Gerson have agreed that the appropriate sentence in this case is 30 months in federal prison and a fine of $200,000.
The final sentence will be determined by Klausner, and if the judge decides to deviate from the agreed-upon sentence both parties have the right to withdraw from the plea agreement and proceed to trial. In addition to the prison sentence and criminal fine, Gerson has agreed to the entry of a $2.5 million forfeiture judgment which will require Gerson to hand over the proceeds of his scheme.
In its plea agreement, Vaccination Services has agreed to pay a $300,000 fine and to be placed on probation for a period of five years. This stipulated sentence is also subject to the approval of Klausner.
Gerson was previously convicted of charges related to the illegal sale of pet medications and products. According to documents previously filed in Los Angeles, Gerson pleaded guilty in Texas in 2014 to state charges of delivery of a dangerous drug, specifically a prescription drug called Clenbuterol. The respiratory drug, which causes fat loss and muscle growth, is illegal in the United States except for use in horses with breathing problems.
In a related case, Klausner in June ordered a South African veterinarian to pay a fine of $5,000 and forfeit to the United States $145,000 after pleading guilty to a charge of making false statements in relation to unapproved pet medications he shipped to Gerson.
Craig Mostert sent the foreign-market drugs to Gerson, and significantly understated the value of the products in a series of shipments between 2008 and 2017, according to prosecutors.
—City News Service