Pleas, indictments in animal drug, pesticide trafficking cases

Federal officials recently announced developments in two criminal cases involving sales of unapproved pesticides and veterinary drugs valued at more than $6 million.

The first case involves Otilio Rodriguez Toledo and Alicia Aispuro Hernandez, husband and wife from Thermal, California, who pleaded guilty March 28 to conspiring to smuggle and distribute $2 million worth of Mexican pesticides and veterinary drugs not approved for use in the United States.

In pleading guilty, Toldeo and Hernandez acknowledged that since at least December 2018, they had smuggled pesticides and veterinary drugs from Mexico into the United States, then illegally distributed the products within the United States, according to a release from the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of California. The pesticides involved were primarily Taktic and Bovitraz, which contain amitraz in a higher concentration than is permitted and are not registered with the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) for use in the United States. The smuggled veterinary drugs included Tetragent Aves, Metabolase, Terramycin, Baytril Max, and Tylovet, which are not approved by the FDA for use in the United States.

Toldeo and Hernandez were part of a larger organized pesticide smuggling ring in which participants smuggled pesticides and veterinary drugs to a self-storage facility near the U.S.-Mexico border in Calexico, California. The smugglers would send photographs of the products at the storage units as proof of delivery prior to payment. Later, they picked up the products from the storage units and distributed them to others within the United States.

Judge with gavel

Toldeo and Hernandez each face up to five years in prison and a $250,000 fine. The defendants are scheduled to be sentenced by U.S. District Judge John A. Houston on June 21. Previously, on June 7, 2022, Sofia Mancera Morales, the ringleader of this pesticide smuggling organization, was sentenced to eight months in custody and ordered to pay $7,497 in restitution for the cost of disposal of the illegal pesticides. In pleading guilty, Mancera had acknowledged she obtained the illegal pesticides in Mexico and delivered them to others to smuggle into the United States.

The second case involving sales of unapproved pesticides and veterinary drugs was that of Bien King, of Congers, New York, and Khalil King, of New York City. On April 26, the mother and son, respectively, were indicted for conspiracy, distribution of unregistered and misbranded pesticides, and interstate shipment of misbranded animal drugs. The indictment by the U.S. Attorney of the Eastern District of Pennsylvania alleges that the two jointly operated a business called Little City Dogs, based in New York City.

The defendants are alleged to have purchased unapproved animal drugs and pesticides, including ivermectin, nitenpyram, praziquantel, and fipronil, from various Chinese suppliers, according to the indictment.

The government alleges their Chinese suppliers routinely mislabeled the shipments to avoid inspection by U.S. Customs and Border Protection inspectors. According to the indictment, once the defendants received the shipments from China, they used various locations, including a Manhattan office, to mix and repackage these drugs and pesticides for resale to customers throughout the United States.

The defendants’ company received over $4 million from the sale of these misbranded, unregistered, and unapproved pesticides and animal drugs, the indictment states.

If convicted, the defendants face a maximum possible sentence of 19 years in prison, up to three years of supervised release, and a $1.4 million fine.