COLUMBIA, SC (WCBD) – A man has been sentenced to 14 years in federal prison after authorities say he set up counterfeit pharmaceutical labs in vacation houses along the South Carolina coast.
In a press release Tuesday, US Attorney Sherri Lydon announced 37-year-old Eric Hughes was sentenced to 168 months in federal prison after pleading guilty to drug conspiracy and money laundering.
Evidence presented to the court established Hughes and his co-defendants operated a counterfeit pill manufacturing operation in the Lowcountry.
The defendants rented vacation houses at Fripp Island, Sullivan’s Island, Isle of Palms, Bluffton, and Tybee Island in Georgia, where they set up so-called clandestine pharmaceutical laboratories for a month at a time.
Each month, the court says the conspiracy produces approximately 500,000 counterfeit pills, which appeared to be legitimate pharmaceuticals.
According to the release, Hughes ordered precursors—U-47700, a synthetic opioid, and alprazolam from China using the dark web.
It says he then used formulas found on the internet to mix the active ingredients with binding agents and dye to make a powdery substance that was fed into a pill press, which could produce 4,500 pills an hour.
Lyndon’s office said the counterfeit pills were then sold to distributors on the dark web and provided to distributors in South Carolina.
The pills sold on the dark web were purchased using bitcoins which were then laundered through various accounts to hide their locations.
Over a million dollars in bitcoins was generated and hid by the conspiracy.
The operation was discovered when the DEA executed multiple search warrants in August 2017, including on a beach house on Tybee Island, where the conspiracy had a laboratory set up.
Agents found the house to be covered in the residue of U-47700 and alprazolam, which required the agents to enter with respirators and full containment clothing.
The clean-up of the beach house cost $213,000, which Hughes was ordered to pay.