Federal agents claim decorated Madison pharmacist and partner sold millions of fake Viagra, sleeping pills and diet drugs online.

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A Madison business owner who has been honored for her civic-mindedness has been jailed, along with a Middleton man, on federal charges alleging they imported and sold millions of doses of fake Viagra and other counterfeit drugs, and conspired to illegally to sell powerful pain-killers, stimulants and tranquilizers.

Marla Ahlgrimm, 55, is the owner of Women’s Health America and pharmacies that provide hormone replacement therapy to alleviate premenstrual symptoms and other problems. She authored two books on the subject and has served on the UW Foundation board for more than a decade. Since graduating from the UW-Madison pharmacy school in 1978 she has been recognized locally and nationally.

Ahlgrimm and co-defendant is Balbir Bhogal, 63, were spending their second night in the Dane County Jail on Thursday night, pending a court hearing Friday.

Ahlgrimm was arrested Wednesday after she walked into her office on Deming Way as investigators were executing a search warrant, her lawyer said.

“It was a shock, that’s the best word for it,” said lawyer Timothy Edwards. “Our goal right now is to get her out of custody.”

Ahlgrimm and Bhogal are charged in the federal court for the Eastern District of New York and the prosecutor there is insisting that they not be released, Edwards said.

“The idea that she is a flight risk or a danger to the community is ludicrous,” said Edwards, who will argue that his client be released pending further court proceedings in New York.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Elizabeth Altman in Madison said Wednesday that “all I can say is the government is asking for detention.” Bhogal’s lawyer, Erika L. Bierma, wasn’t available, according to a person who answered the phone at her office.
Details of the complaint

A criminal complaint accuses Ahlgrimm and Bhogal of working together to import from India pills that had the markings of well-known prescription drugs, but which contained either none of the actual medication or a low or incorrect dosage.

According to the complaint, signed by FBI agent James J. Cunningham Jr.:

An unnamed “confidential source” who ran an Internet pharmacy service said that from February 2008 to May 2009 he bought millions of tablets of Alprazolam, an anti-anxiety medication, and Phentermine, a stimulant, from the defendants, arranging the transactions via email.

The informant was not a pharmacist or physician and couldn’t legally purchase the supplies for his business from U.S. manufacturers. Payments went to accounts controlled by the defendants.

A second such source reported ordering prescription pain-killers oxycodone and hydrocodone, and generic versions of the male erectile disfunction medication Viagra. Law enforcement officials intercepted shipments and found thousands of pills manufactured in the trademarked shapes and colors of the genuine medications, and with trademarked imprints. Testing found the pills either lacked the active ingredients or the proper levels of the active ingredients that would make the medications effective.

Investigators linked the transactions to companies, addresses, websites and e-mail addresses associated with Ahlgrimm and with Nutragen, LLC, a company that lists Bhogal as its registered agent.

Ahlgrimm founded Women’s Health America in the 1990s and co-founded Madison Pharmacy Associates in 1982.

Money magazine singled her out for her investment savvy in 1992. In 2001, The Business Forum in Madison nominated her for an Athena Award recognizing her accomplishments. She was honored in 2008 by A Fund for Women as one of six Fabulous Firsts as a pioneer in her field.

She has served on the United Way of Dane County and the UW-Madison School of Pharmacy boards, and funds a pharmacy school scholarship in her name.
Investigation involved several agencies. Edwards, Ahlgrimm’s lawyer, said he couldn’t respond to the charges because they were too vague.

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