HONOLULU (AP) — A Chinese national arrested in Honolulu faces charges that he manufactured and imported counterfeit weight-loss medication with ingredients that could cause headaches, anxiety and chills, federal authorities said Thursday.
Federal prosecutors say 30-year-old Sengyang Zhou of Kunming traveled from China to Hawaii intending to meet with people interested in distributing his pills in the U.S., including knockoffs of Alli, an over-the-counter weight-loss drug.
Authorities say the arrest came Tuesday, the same day that an alleged accomplice, 60-year-old Qung Ming Hu, was arrested in Plano, Texas.
The two have been charged with a number of crimes, including the introduction and delivery into interstate commerce of unapproved new drugs.
Zhou is being held without bond and is being transferred to Denver face the charges in the District of Colorado. Hu was released on bond, agreeing to appear April 7 in Denver to face the charges against her.
Prosecutors said Zhou told undercover investigators he manufactured diet pills, including Alli. U.S. District Attorney’s spokesman Jeff Dorschner said one man who had been taking the authentic version of Alli switched to a cheaper version sold online by Zhou and began to have heart palpitations, numbness in his left arm, severe anxiety, headaches and profuse sweating and chills. The man thought he was having a heart attack and feared for his life.
Dorschner said investigators believe other people became ill but they don’t know how many.
“If people feel, or the have reason to believe that they are taking this counterfeit diet pill and that it’s made them ill, I’d encourage them to contact the FDA,” Dorschner said.
The FDA issued several alerts from 2008 to 2010 warning people about counterfeit diet drugs being imported from China. The FDA said the they posed serious health risks because they contained undeclared pharmaceutical ingredients, including potent diuretics available only by prescription, antidepressants and the controlled substance Sibutramine, which can cause high blood pressure, seizures, heart attack or stroke.
Prosecutors said Zhou’s Web site was www.2daydietshopping.com and operated out of Plano. If convicted of all charges, Zhou faces up to 38 years in prison.