LOS ANGELES (AP) -- For more than a year, CVS Pharmacy Inc. was
more than a neighborhood drug store in Southern California and at
least four other states. Federal authorities say it was the place
of choice for would-be criminals known as "smurfers" to buy a key
ingredient used to cook batches of the highly addictive drug
On Thursday, the nation's largest operator of retail pharmacies
announced it had agreed to pay $75 million in fines for allowing
repeated purchases of pseudoephedrine that led to a spike in
Southern California drug trafficking.
CVS will pay what federal prosecutors said was the largest civil
penalty ever assessed under the Controlled Substances Act.
The company also will forfeit about $2.6 million in profits
earned from the sales of pseudoephedrine, which can often be found
in cold medicine and is used to make meth.
Authorities said CVS didn't provide enough safeguards to monitor
how much pseudoephedrine a customer was buying, and the company
violated federal drug regulations in Arizona, Georgia, California,
Nevada, South Carolina and possibly 20 other states.
"CVS knew it had a duty to prevent methamphetamine
trafficking," said U.S. Attorney Andre Birotte Jr. "But it failed
to take steps to control the sale of a regulated drug used by
methamphetamine cooks as an essential ingredient for their
The company was expected to pay the $75 million fine by Friday.
The remaining forfeiture is due within 30 days.
Thomas Ryan, chairman and CEO of parent company CVS Caremark,
said the company unacceptably breached its policies and has worked
to fix the problem.
"To make certain this kind of lapse never takes place again, we
have strengthened our internal controls and compliance measures and
made substantial investments to improve our handling and monitoring
of (pseudoephedrine) by implementing enhanced technology and making
other improvements in our stores and distribution centers," Ryan
Federal agents began investigating CVS in 2008 after the arrest
of several people in Southern California for unlawful possession of
pseudoephedrine with the intent to manufacture meth. They said
those people had bought large amounts of the ingredient from CVS
stores in the region.
Investigators learned CVS had committed thousands of violations
of a federal law limiting the amount of pseudoephedrine a customer
can buy in a day. Although the pharmacy chain created an automated
system known as Meth Tracker to record individual sales, it didn't
prevent multiple purchases by someone on the same day, authorities
As a result, federal authorities in Southern California saw an
increase in meth production. In Los Angeles and Orange counties,
so-called "smurfers," who traveled from store to store picking up
pseudoephedrine, inundated CVS locations. In some locations, buyers
would clear store shelves of cough and cold medicines.
"Smurfers" knew to frequent CVS and not other pharmacies
because of the company's oversight issues, authorities said, noting
customers could buy a bottle of cold medicine for $10 and sell it
to meth manufacturers for $25.
Between September 2007 and November 2008, CVS became one of the
largest suppliers of pseudoephedrine to meth providers in Southern
California, authorities said.
"CVS did not set out to be part of the meth trafficking trade
but they made a poor decision," said Assistant U.S. Attorney Shana
Mintz. "Rather than choosing to over-comply like their competitors
did, they knowingly under-complied with the law."
CVS employees and store managers notified management about the
large amount of pseudoephedrine purchased in California and Nevada,
but prosecutors said the company failed to promptly investigate.
CVS spokeswoman Carolyn Castel declined comment on that issue.
Over a 10-month period in 2008, sales of products containing
pseudoephedrine increased more than 150 percent in Los Angeles
County, compared with the same period in 2007, authorities said.
"We know those sales were not your general customer who had a
cold," Mintz said. "Some people were making 10 purchases at a
time. Suppliers couldn't keep up with the demand."
The company eventually changed its sales practices but only
after it became aware of the investigation, prosecutors said.
By agreeing to pay the fine, CVS will not face potential
criminal charges and the company will implement a compliance and
ethics program over the next three years.
CVS has more than 7,100 stores in the U.S.
Copyright 2010 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.
The Enoch Pratt Free Library in Baltimore is displaying thousands of historic Christmas cards.
Northbound Jones Falls Expressway lanes have reopened at Cold Spring Lane after an accident, Baltimore police confirmed via Twitter.
UPDATE | Baltimore County Police report missing 65-year-old, Doris Franks, has been found.
Several reptiles are dead and six people are displaced following a two-alarm fire at Jon's Exotic Pet Store in Cecil County.