Brothers Amed and Amaury Villa were charged in participating in what prosecutors are calling the largest-ever pharmaceutical drug heist. Their caper involved rappelling rope and loading 49 pallets of drugs as a torrential storm beat down.
Two Cuban brothers from Miami have been arrested in what investigators are calling the biggest pharmaceutical drug heist in U.S. history. They eluded law enforcement for two years after trucking out $80 million in drugs from a Connecticut warehouse in an elaborate scheme that involved scaling a wall and rappelling through the ceiling to disable an alarm system.
Amaury Villa, 37, and Amed Villa, 46, might have got away if not for a water bottle one of the brothers touched at the scene, U.S. Attorney David Fein said at a news conference on Thursday afternoon.
The brothers were arrested in Florida on Thursday, accused of helping to steal 49 pallets of Gemzar, a chemotherapy drug used to treat lung cancer; Zyprexa, a depressant and antipsychotic used to treat bipolar disorder; Prozac, pharmaceutical company Eli Lilly's first billion-dollar drug and the company's top seller before it lost patent protection several years ago; and Cymbalta which is used to treat anxiety disorders.
"As far as we know, this brazen crime is the biggest theft in Connecticut history, and in the history of the pharmaceutical industry, countrywide," Fein said.
The Villa brothers have been charged in other states as well. Amaury Villa is the lead defendant in a case involving 10 others in Florida, nabbed in an investigation dubbed Operation Southern Hospitality They are charged with possession and sale of drugs stolen from cargo at truck stops in Pennsylvania, Ohio and Tennessee. They are also charged with stealing drugs from a GlaxoSmithKline warehouse in Virginia, Fein said.
In a separate case in central Illinois, Amed Villa is accused of stealing and hauling 3,500 cases of cigarettes worth more than $8 million from a warehouse, federal officials said.
Detailing a narrative that could have been ripped from the big screen, federal officials say the Villa brothers staked out the Eli Lilly warehouse in January 2010.
Amaury Villa flew into LaGuardia Airport from Miami, rented a car and drove to Enfield, Conn., where he was caught on surveillance lurking about the Eli Lilly facility, Fein said. The next day, he returned to Miami.
In February 2010, one of Amaury Villa's associates received an e-mail with lease agreements for two tractor-trailers, Fein said.
A month later, in March, Amaury Villa flew back to New York and checked into a hotel in Windsor.
The heist took place during the night of March 13, 2010, as heavy rain and wind beat down on the region.
Authorities say the thieves cut through the ceiling and rappelled inside and disabled the alarms.
For five hours, Amed Villa and others used a forklift inside the facility to lift boxes and load them into a tractor-trailer, Fein said.
At 3:40 a.m., the charges allege, they left the facility, drugs in tow.
Despite the elaborate efforts to skirt security, Amed Villa touched a water bottle in the facility and left it there, federal authorities said.
Amaury Villa checked out of a hotel in Windsor that day, returning to Miami days later, Fein said.
Authorities were stumped for a year and a half, until October 2011, when they found about $80 million in pharmaceuticals in a storage facility in Doral, Fla. They had been stolen from Connecticut, Fein said.
A Florida indictment charges 11 people with possession and sale of narcotics, some of which were stolen in the Connecticut heist, federal officials said.
This article includes reporting by NBCConnecticut.com, The Associated Press and msnbc.com staff.
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