TROY, Mich- A Troy bodybuilder has been charged in an international smuggling scheme that involved the illegal distribution of drugs used to treat the effects of steroid use, officials said.
Joshua Ford, of Troy, is active in the bodybuilding community, according to authorities. He is one of five people named in an indictment centered around a drug smuggling scheme:
- Joshua Ford, of Troy, Michigan
- Brendon Gagne, of Fountain, Colorado
- James Funaro, of Atlanta, Georgia
- Jeremy Walenty, of Tampa, Florida
- Taylor McLaren, of Colorado Springs, Colorado
Officials said these men set up a website -- www.ExpressPCT.com -- that sold various prescription drugs manufactured outside the United States. Several of those drugs were used to treat the short-term effects of anabolic steroid use, court records show.
Two other websites have been linked to the scheme, officials said. One -- www.ExpressPEDS.ws -- sold various prescription drugs, including Schedule III anabolic steroids. The other -- www.PayAnyWayExchange.com -- acted as a payment processing site for customers of the other websites.
The indictment concludes these five men owe a forfeiture of at least $12 million in proceeds traced back to this scheme, in addition to a 2012 Maserati Granturismo and a 2014 BMW 428.
How it worked
Customers of this scheme could visit www.ExpressPCT.com to place orders for prescription drugs without legitimate prescriptions, authorities said. The products were broken down into four categories based on location, including one labeled, “USA Products,” court records say.
The “USA Products” page included several drugs for sale, including Letrozole, isotretinoin, arimidex, exemestane, cabergoline, tadalafil citrate, clomiphene citrate, modafinil, tamoxifen citrate, human chorionic gonadotropin and sildenafil citrate.
Many of those drugs can specifically treat the short-term side effects of anabolic steroids, according to officials.
The affiliate website, www.ExpressPEDS.ws, sold anabolic-androgenic steroids and didn’t require customers to provide prescriptions, court records show.
Drugs were shipped in bulk to individual distributors in the U.S. with fake statements about what was contained in the packages, officials said. In some cases, the drugs were packaged in boxes normally used to ship cosmetics or other non-drug items, according to court documents.
When they arrived in the U.S., the drugs were broken down by individual distributors and sent to re-distributors in smaller bulk shipments, officials said.
Re-distributors would re-package the drugs, apply a United States Postal Service shipping label and send them to customers, according to authorities.
The websites accepted Bitcoin, wire transfers and alternative forms of payment, including through Zelle and Cash App, officials said. Customers using alternative forms of payment did so through www.PayAnyWayExchange.com, according to court records.
The website instructed customers not to include any words, names or specific information related to the drugs when making payments, authorities said.
Customer funds were ultimately routed to accounts in Funaro’s name before being converted to cryptocurrency and moved to accounts held by foreign nationals residing overseas and to other unknown locations, court documents say.
Recruiting and shipments
All five men have been charged with conspiracy to smuggle goods into the United States.
“The object of the conspiracy was to import unapproved foreign manufactured prescription drugs and controlled anabolic steroids into the United States,” the indictment reads.
Officials said the website www.ExpressPCT.com was established on Sept. 16, 2018, and www.ExpressPEDS.ws was established on March 31, 2020.
The indictment contained several details about how people were recruited into the scheme:
- In February 2019, Gagne recruited someone in Boulder, Colorado, to serve as a re-distributor of prescription drugs from www.ExpressPCT.com.
- On Oct. 14, 2019, Gagne told someone on Discord that his username was “ariajacobs” on Wickr so that person could place an order for prescription drugs.
- In December 2019, Gagne recruited someone from Boulder to serve as a re-distributor of prescription drugs from www.ExpressPCT.com.
- In March 2020, Gagne recruited Walenty to serve as a re-distributor of prescription drugs purchased on www.ExpressPCT.com.
- In November 2019, someone from Miami was recruited to serve as a re-distributor of prescription drugs from www.ExpressPCT.com.
Officials said Walenty spoke with a customer March 3, 2020, to explain how the website would address situations in which orders were seized by government officials before delivery.
The indictment says the following shipments were sent from the website to the U.S.:
- Between February and December of 2019, people outside the U.S. sent Gagne around 22 bulk packages of prescription drugs.
- From January to August of 2019, they sent Walenty nine bulk packages of prescription drugs.
- From February to March of 2020, three bulk packages of prescription drugs were sent from outside the U.S. to McLaren.
- From November 2019 to October 2020, people outside the U.S. sent the co-conspirator in Miami four bulk packages of prescription drugs.
- Between February and March of 2020, people outside the U.S. sent Ford four bulk packages of prescription drugs.
Muskegon residents accused
On Feb. 5, 2020, McLaren used his Instagram account to recruit a person from Muskegon, Michigan, to distribute drugs for the scheme, according to authorities. He told that person that his friend ran the scheme and used the Wickr username “ariajacobs,” the indictment says.
The Muskegon resident recruited a second person from Muskegon to help him, officials said. That second person opened a cryptocurrency account with Coinbase to receive payments for their participation, authorities said.
Between Feb. 15, 2020, and Sept. 20, 2020, people outside the U.S. sent the Muskegon residents 12 bulk packages of prescription drugs for purchase, court records show.
On July 22, 2020, an email was sent to the Muskegon residents that outlined the process for dividing bulk shipments of prescription drugs into smaller orders for shipping, as well as instructions for printing USPS labels and how to package drugs, according to the indictment.
“It is not fully legal shipping these types of products all across the country,” the email reads, in part, according to officials.
Between July and October of 2020, the same person sent the Muskegon residents 34 emails containing the names of customers, what types of drugs they wanted and how much they ordered, authorities said. The email included links to pre-filled and pre-paid USPS labels to the customers, court records say.
In August 2020, one of the Boulder residents sent the Muskegon residents a shipment of prescription drugs, some of which were concealed inside boxes for beauty products, officials said.
Preparing for re-distribution
Between December 2019 and April 2020, Gagne obtained about 580 priority mail envelopes from USPS, officials said.
Between February and September of 2020, Walenty obtained about 700 priority mail boxes and 1,900 priority mail envelopes from USPS, according to authorities.
On Oct. 13, 2020, the Miami man obtained about 100 priority mail boxes and 840 priority mail envelopes from USPS, court records say.
Between February and October of 2020, the Muskegon residents obtained about 40 priority mail boxes and 370 priority mail envelopes from USPS, according to officials.
Between July 24, 2020, and Oct. 11, 2020, the Muskegon residents mailed about 430 shipments of prescription drugs to other re-distributors or customers in the U.S., according to authorities.
Between Jan. 8, 2020, and Oct. 19, 2020, Walenty mailed about 1,800 shipments of prescription drugs to re-distributors or customers, officials said.
On June 5, the Muskegon men mailed a USPS priority mail box of prescription drugs from Muskegon to Walenty in Tampa, court records show.
They sent a similar package of drugs to Gagne in Colorado Springs on June 22, 2020, and another one to his girlfriend in Colorado Springs seven days later, according to officials.
A box of drugs was sent from Boulder to Walenty from July 13-15, 2020, authorities said.
A box containing about 260 tablets of Tadalafil, 10 tablets of Armodafinil and 160 tablets of Modafinil was sent from Boulder to Walenty in Tampa on Nov. 7, 2020, according to the indictment.
In September 2020, a customer ordered prescription Clomid and Arimidex online and the Muskegon residents were instructed to fill the order, officials said. They sent the drugs to the customer via USPS, and payment was sent to a digital wallet provider before being transferred to a bank account owned by Funaro, officials said.
Funaro is accused of having a conversation on Dec. 18, 2020, with a repeat customer via Facebook messenger. He had another conversation with a customer in February 2021 about fulfilling an order and the payment, according to authorities.
Funaro and Gagne have been charged with one count each of money laundering conspiracy. Funaro is also charged with one count of money laundering.
The indictment alleges both men were involved in financial transactions and knew those transactions were designed to conceal and disguise how the money was earned.
Officials said Funaro knew that the property involved in the financial transaction “represented the proceeds of some form of unlawful activity.”