Chinese company, owner to plead guilty to selling human growth hormone, will pay $7.5M

By Eric Tucker, AP
Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Chinese company to plead guilty in HGH probe

PROVIDENCE, R.I. — A Chinese company believed responsible for producing most of the illegal human growth hormone outside the U.S. has agreed to plead guilty, along with its chief executive, to federal charges of selling the drug and both have agreed to pay $7.5 million, court documents show.

Lei Jin and his company, Genescience Pharmaceutical Co., were scheduled to enter a plea change and be sentenced in U.S. District Court in Providence. The company agreed to plead to a felony and Jin to a misdemeanor, according to court documents.

Genescience was charged in 2007 during a massive crackdown on illegal sports doping, dubbed Operation Raw Deal, in which more than 120 people were arrested and 11.4 million doses of drugs were seized.

The company, based in Changchun, China, was accused of selling and shipping the drug, generally used to build muscle mass, under the brand name Jintropin without approval from the Food and Drug Administration. The FDA allows the prescribed use of human growth hormone for certain medical conditions but not for bodybuilding or anti-aging purposes.

The investigation crippled the company, which was responsible for 90 percent of the human growth hormone illegally produced outside the United States, said FDA Special Agent Jason Simonian, who spearheaded the investigation from Rhode Island. Investigators in New England used wire transfers and e-mails from the company to track shipments across the world, Simonian said.

As part of the plea agreement, the company and Jin will forfeit $4.5 million and set up a $3 million fund that will work against doping in sports by providing grants for education and scientific research. The fund will be administered by the Rhode Island Foundation.

John Tarantino, a lawyer for the company, declined to comment Wednesday. A lawyer for Jin did not immediately return a call seeking comment.

Jin was initially indicted on charges including money laundering and smuggling goods into the United States, but the plea agreement reached with federal prosecutors requires Jin to admit only to a single misdemeanor count of introducing an unapproved drug into interstate commerce. He will also be sentenced to five years probation.

Federal investigators have stepped up efforts in recent years to target companies that distribute steroids and human growth hormone but also the pharmacies that illicitly supply the drugs to professional athletes and others.

“We’ve vertically taken out every step of the process,” Simonian said. “It shows the bad guys that no matter where they are in the world, we have the ability to reach out and take their money, and I think that’s one of the most significant parts of the case.”

(This version CORRECTS 1st paragraph and reference in story to say company was believed responsible for 90 percent of the illegal drug produced outside the U.S.))

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