PROVIDENCE, R.I. (AP) — A Chinese company and its chief executive planned to plead guilty Wednesday to federal charges of illegally selling human growth hormone and 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 Pharmaceutical sold the drug, widely used to build muscle mass, under the brand name Jintropin without approval from the Food and Drug Administration.
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 investigation crippled the company, which the government believes is responsible for nearly 90 percent of the illegal human growth hormone found in the United States, said FDA Special Agent Jason Simonian. Federal 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.
Lawyers for the company and for Jin did not immediately return calls 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.
The FDA closely regulates the use of human growth hormone, allowing it to be prescribed for certain medical conditions but not for anti-aging, bodybuilding or weight loss. In 2007, actor Sylvester Stallone was convicted of importing dozens of vials of Jintropin into Australia. He later defended its use.
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.
In January 2009, for instance, a New Jersey businessman convicted in Rhode Island of recruiting doctors to write steroid and bogus human growth hormone prescriptions for customers around the world was sentenced to two years in prison.
Also, prosecutors say Florida-based Signature Pharmacy, which was raided in 2007, filled many of the prescriptions written by the doctors.
"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."
Copyright 2010 The Associated Press.
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