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United States Attorney's Office for the Western District of Pennsylvania

05/07/2021 | Press release | Distributed by Public on 05/07/2021 12:27

Florida Resident Sentenced for Misbranding and Money Laundering Conspiracies Involving Online Sale and Distribution of Unapproved Drug Obtained from Overseas

PITTSBURGH, Pa. - A resident of Odessa, Florida, was sentenced in federal court on May 5, 2021, for one count of conspiracy to smuggle misbranded drugs into the United States and introduce them into interstate commerce, as well as one count of money laundering conspiracy, Acting United States Attorney Stephen R. Kaufman announced today.

United States District Judge Mark R. Hornak sentenced Julia Fees, 29, to four years of probation. Fees was also ordered to forfeit a total of approximately $231,000 to the United States.

During the defendant's plea hearing on Jan. 17, 2019, Fees admitted her role in obtaining and distributing etizolam to individual consumers for their personal, recreational use. Etizolam, as Fees admitted, is a drug known as a thienodiazepine, which is chemically similar to benzodiazepines (e.g., Xanax) and carries risks of dependency, toxicity, and the possibility of fatal overdose-particularly in combination with other depressants. Etizolam is not approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration in the United States, and it cannot legally be imported, distributed, or prescribed domestically for use as a drug. The defendant further admitted that she and her business partner and co-conspirator, William Kulakevich, illegally brought significant quantities of etizolam into the United States from an overseas supplier-an Indian national named Jeetendra Belani, aka Jeetu-for the purpose of distributing the drug to individual consumers. As part of the conspiracy, the defendant arranged to have etizolam smuggled into the United States from Belani through the use of, among other means, multiple post office boxes controlled by the defendants. To evade scrutiny by regulatory and law enforcement authorities, Fees and Kulakevich used false and misleading packaging, and generally misrepresented the nature of the products sold on their website.

In addition, in order to promote their continued illegal activities, Fees and Kulakevich engaged in money laundering activity, including by using varied methods to transfer funds to Belani in India as payment for his ongoing supply of etizolam. These methods included international wire transfers, virtual currency payments, and even cash payments. To further mask the co-conspirators' activities, Fees admitted using used a front entity-Clicken Little LLC-and related bank accounts to route payments between the defendants and Belani.

Kulakevich and Belani previously pleaded guilty for their roles in the etizolam conspiracies-among other offenses as to Belani-and were sentenced to eight months' imprisonment and approximately thirteen months' imprisonment, respectively.

Assistant United States Attorney Eric G. Olshan prosecuted this case on behalf of the government. The United States Food and Drug Administration - Office of Criminal Investigations and Homeland Security Investigations conducted the investigation leading to the conviction in this case.