Two Miami men were charged Thursday with the sensational theft of $80 million in pharmaceuticals from an Eli Lilly Co. warehouse in Enfield two years ago, federal authorities said Thursday.
Amaury Villa, 37, and his brother, Amed Villa, 46, Cuban citizens living in Miami, are described by authorities as members of a sophisticated group of warehouse burglars and truck-hijackers responsible for thefts of large quantities of pharmaceutical drugs and other goods along the East Coast and in the Midwest. Federal authorities said they smashed the ring following a three-year, undercover FBI investigation.
Prior to the Enfield theft, the Villa brothers and others not identified by authorities traveled repeatedly from Miami to the Hartford area, apparently to spy on the 70,000-square-foot warehouse on Freshwater Boulevard. A Lilly security camera recorded one of the thieves peering through the front door of the warehouse three months before the theft.
On the night of March 13, 2010, and into the early hours of March 14, they are accused of cutting a hole in the warehouse roof and descending into the interior on ropes. Inside, they disabled parts of the security system and, over five hours, used a warehouse forklift to load 49 pallets stacked with boxes of pharmaceuticals into a trailer truck, federal authorities said.
The thieves leased the truck specifically for the Enfield heist, authorities said, and used the warehouse loading dock to fill it with cases of Gemzar, a chemotherapy drug for lung cancer patients; the antipsychotic Zyprexa; and Cymbalta and Prozac, used to treat depression and anxiety.
"As far as we know, this brazen crime was the biggest theft in the history of Connecticut and the largest theft of pharmaceuticals in the United States," Connecticut U.S. Attorney David B. Fein said Thursday.
The Villa brothers are charged with theft and conspiracy in a federal indictment focused exclusively on the planning and execution of the Enfield warehouse heist. Amaury Villa and 10 others are charged in a separate Florida indictment that accuses them of selling and conspiring to sell stolen pharmaceuticals.
In yet another related case, federal authorities in Illinois said Thursday that they had charged Amed Villa with the theft in January of more than 3,500 cases of cigarettes, valued at more than $8 million, from a warehouse in Peoria.
And authorities in New Jersey have charged a dozen people associated with the same ring with conspiracy to steal and sell millions more in prescription andover-the-counter drugs.
Fein said that "virtually all" of the drugs stolen in Enfield were recovered in a warehouse in South Florida, but he would not elaborate specifically on the sale or attempted sale of pharmaceuticals stolen by the Villa brothers or others accused with them in Florida.
"The cargo theft of pharmaceuticals is on the rise, imposing a terrible cost on the industry and a danger to the public," Fein said.
Industry experts have said that the numbers of thefts such as the Lilly job in Enfield have grown sharply as sophisticated criminals try to feed growing black market demand for high-priced prescription medications, including anti-depressants, blood thinners and insulin.
The Enfield warehouse is one of three national distribution centers that Lilly operates.
The theft there had similarities to hits on pharmaceutical warehouses a year earlier near Richmond, Va.; Memphis, Tenn.; and Olive Branch, Miss. Thieves there cut through roofs and sometimes used trapeze-style rigging to get inside and disable alarm systems. In some cases, they spray-painted security camera lenses; in others, they stole disks from the security recording devices.
Federal authorities in Florida said the group associated with the Villa brothers was responsible for the theft of truckloads of pharmaceuticals from truck stops in Pennsylvania, Ohio and Tennessee and from a GlaxoSmithKline warehouse in Virginia.
The brothers are each charged with one count of conspiracy to commit theft from an interstate shipment and four counts of theft from an interstate shipment. The conspiracy charge carries a maximum sentence of five years. Each of the other charges carries a maximum sentence of 10 years.
The Connecticut indictment, returned March 12 and unsealed Thursday, detailed evidence of travel between Florida and Connecticut, hotel stays in Windsor, the purchase of tools and the rental of cars and trucks in the run-up to the burglary.
Amaury Villa, sometimes accompanied by an unidentified associate, flew from Miami to LaGuardia Airport in New York or Bradley International Airport, where he rented cars. He booked rooms at least twice at the Hyatt Summerfield Suites in Windsor, including on the weekend of the theft.
On Jan. 9, 2010, Amaury Villa's associate was recorded by a warehouse security camera. On Feb. 22, the thieves received email confirmation of the lease of two tractor-trailer trucks to a business for which Amaury Villa is a registered agent.
Federal prosecutors said that for about 10 minutes beginning at 10:22 p.m. on March 13, 2010, the night the burglary began, Lilly warehouse security cameras captured images of more of the thieves. It was after 10:30 p.m. that the thieves — using tools purchased at a Home Depot store in Queens, N.Y — cut a hole in the roof, descended inside and disabled parts of the security system, federal authorities said.
At some point during the theft, the indictment said, "Amed Villa touched a water bottle previously stored within the Enfield warehouse and left that empty bottle inside the warehouse after he departed." Federal authorities would not say what they learned from an analysis of the bottle.
The indictment charges that the tractor-trailer left Lilly's property at 3:40 a.m. on March 14, 2010.
Fein said Thursday that it "disappeared into the night."
Later the same morning, Amaury Villa checked out of his hotel room in Windsor. His rental car was recorded passing through the southbound toll on the Whitestone Bridge in New York at 11:35 a.m. On March 15, according to the indictment, he flew back to Miami from LaGuardia.
The Villa brothers were arrested Thursday in Florida and are expected to be transported to Connecticut, where they will be presented at U.S. District Court.Copyright © 2015, CT Now