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Over-the-counter drug ring has Triangle epicenter

Prosecutors have reached plea agreements with two more players in a complex, multi-million dollar over-the-counter drug ring, which has an epicenter in the Triangle and spans the East Coast.

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FRANKLINTON, N.C. — Prosecutors have reached plea agreements with two more players in a complex, multi-million dollar over-the-counter drug ring, which has an epicenter in the Triangle and spans the East Coast.

Tylenol, Pepcid, Prilosec and Nicorette are just some of the over-the-counter drugs that can be found at most stores. Authorities say those kinds of drugs were the target of ringleader Joseph Charles Falco, 35, of Collegeville, Pa.

From November 2006 to June 2007, members of his organization stole more than $1 million in over-the-counter medications and health and beauty products from retail chain stores in Durham, Franklin and Wake counties, authorities said.

The ring would remove all stickers and security sensors from the packaging and resell the stolen merchandise, laundering the money through a business, authorities said.

Falco used rental vehicles to travel to North Carolina and transport the stolen products to Pennsylvania. He also sold some of the stolen merchandise through his Internet store, Joe’s World of Health, authorities said.

Falco was sentenced to five years in prison and three years on supervised release. He also was fined $150,000. He was appealing his conviction.

Undercover phone calls between an informant and Falco show details of the transactions.

Source: You know, awhile back you mentioned something about case goods.

Falco:  Yeah.

Source: This load that you're gonna pick up next week, he's got a few Aleve and a few different things. Can you take it still in the cases or do you want him to take it out and put it in the box?

Falco: Case is fine.

Another man, Tom Nichols of Franklinton, pleaded guilty to conspiracy in the case. Agents seized more than $40,000 worth of stolen medicine from him. He declined to comment to WRAL, citing legal reasons.

Court evidence shows Nichols oversaw the removal of stickers and security sensors from packages. Investigators say the boxes were then glued back together with a glue gun.

An informant's phone call with Falco shows Nichols' involvement, according to prosecutors.

Source: I'll go ahead and tell Tommy that you're going to send him a list of the colognes you want and what you can pay him for as long as you get the other ones.

Falco: Right

Source: And I'll tell him these case goods are OK.

Falco: OK, sounds good. Yep, case goods are always good.

Source: You know, it may be Aleve or Tylenol. I don't know. You know how these things go.

The repackaged drugs and beauty supplies were driven to Boomer and the drugs and money were laundered through Hawks Trading Company, just across the Virginia line. The owner, Chuck Hawks, pleaded guilty to three counts in the case.

A federal judge ordered he and Nichols forfeit several vehicles and $1.7 million in cash.

Rental car receipts show Falco drove from Pennsylvania to North Carolina about every two weeks to pick up merchandise. He also had “Joe’s List,” which was the price he'd pay for certain products, authorities said.

The other players in the ring all reached plea deals with the government in exchange for their cooperation. They haven't been sentenced.

Prosecutors said they don't think any of the medication was tampered with, so there are no safety concerns.

The U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of North Carolina calls the case the dismantling of an organization that was plaguing the business community.

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Cullen Browder, Reporter
Richard Adkins, Photographer
Randall Kerr, Producer
Kelly Hinchcliffe, Web Editor

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