$70M in Prescription Drugs Stolen in Connecticut Heist

March 19, 2010

Thieves scaled a wall at a Connecticut pharmaceutical warehouse over the weekend, cut a hole in the roof and rappelled inside to steal about $70 million in antidepressants and other prescription drugs, authorities said.

The thieves disabled the alarm at the Eli Lilly & Co. warehouse early Sunday in Enfield, where they spent at least an hour loading pallets of drugs into a waiting vehicle at the warehouse’s loading dock during a wind-whipped rainstorm, police said.

The thieves, whose identities remain unknown, made off with enough drugs to fill at least one tractor-trailer, police said. They will probably end up on the black market, experts said.

“Just by the way it occurred, it appears that there were several individuals involved and that it was a very well planned-out and orchestrated operation,” Enfield Police Chief Carl Sferrazza said. “It’s not your run-of-the-mill home burglary, that’s for sure.”

The FBI has been called in to investigate. Authorities would not comment on whether the building had surveillance video or whether employees were being investigated.

Edward Sagebiel, a spokesman for Indianapolis-based Eli Lilly, placed the market value of the drugs at $70 million. They included the antidepressants Prozac and Cymbalta and the anti-psychotic Zyprexa, he said.

The warehouse contained no narcotics or painkillers, he said.

The thieves probably had a buyer lined up — an online pharmacy or someone in South America or Asia, where drug regulations are lax — and could easily make $20 million from the heist, said Erik Gordon, a professor at the Ross School of Business at the University of Michigan who studies the health care industry and entrepreneurship.

Police were called early Sunday afternoon to the warehouse, in an industrial park in Enfield, a working-class town on the Massachusetts border.

They estimate the theft occurred several hours earlier as Enfield caught the edges of a nor’easter that battered the region with heavy rain and wind before dawn Sunday.

Sferrazza said officers determined one or more thieves scaled the exterior brick walls, cut the hole in the roof and rappelled inside with some sort of rope. There didn’t appear to be any outside barriers to the building.

Then, he said, they disabled the security alarms, opened a loading dock door and spent “an extended period of time” — likely a few hours — loading pallets of drugs into at least one vehicle.

No vehicles were reported stolen from the site or nearby, so it’s believed they arrived with one or more vehicles large enough to transport the dozens and dozens of pallets of drugs, he said.

State Police sent in a trained dog in hopes of tracking the suspects’ scents but were unsuccessful, police said.

“It has the appearances of a sophisticated, well-planned criminal action,” said Sagebiel, describing the other missing products as “a mix of pharmaceutical products.”

Zyprexa and Cymbalta were Eli Lilly’s two best-selling drugs last year. Prozac was Lilly’s first billion-dollar drug and the company’s top seller before it lost patent protection several years ago.

The thefts will not cause any national shortages of the products, Sagebiel said.


AP Business Writers Tom Murphy in Indianapolis and Stephen Singer in Hartford contributed to this report.

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