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Internet pharmacy pioneer Strempler going to prison

Andrew Strempler

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Andrew Strempler (WAYNE GLOWACKI / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS ARCHIVES)

Andrew Strempler, who launched Canada's first large Internet pharmacy and helped Americans afford life-saving drugs, has been sentenced to 48 months in prison.

Strempler originally faced three counts of mail fraud that carried a maximum sentence of 20 years each. He plea-bargained those charges down to the sentence handed down Wednesday in Miami, Fla.

The government sought a 57-month sentence. Strempler's counsel, Susan Bozorgi, countered with 41 months. Strempler also forfeited $300,000.

Bozorgi did not return phone or email messages. Strempler's former partner, Mark Rzepka, has also refused interview requests from the Free Press. Rzepka sold his interests in Strempler's company, Mediplan, also called RxNorth, in late 2004 or early 2005.

"It's a sad story," said Daren Jorgenson, who exited the Internet pharmacy business about five years ago. Strempler's story is of "a Mennonite kid from Manitoba who made so much money but money corrupted him," he said.

Strempler was in his mid-20s when he launched his business in 2001 out of a pharmacy he set up in Minnedosa that was on the brink of foreclosure. He saved the pharmacy by selling nicotine gum on eBay.

The business took off, with help from cheaper Canadian medications and a Canadian dollar worth only 68 cents U.S. He was soon employing hundreds of staff and selling prescription drugs for heart disease and diabetes across the U.S. He and his partners in Mediplan won the Prairie Entrepreneurs of the Year award.

Jorgenson said he once lived next door to Strempler when Strempler owned Leonard Asper's former home on Wellington Crescent and Jorgenson owned David Asper's former home.

"I told Andrew" to watch out, Jorgenson said.

When American pharmaceutical companies began limiting drug sales to Canadian pharmacies to counter Internet sales, many Internet pharmacies began sourcing their drugs overseas from legitimate pharmacies in Israel, Ireland, Great Britain, New Zealand and Australia. But Strempler began sourcing prescription drugs from places such as Dubai, where there is a greater potential for counterfeit drugs, said Jorgenson.

Strempler then removed the original labels and listed the country of origin as Canada. His fraud convictions stem from misrepresenting the country of origin on shipments of prescription drugs in 2005 and 2006.

An industry source said Internet pharmacies were worried a country-of-origin label from countries such as Greece and Turkey, where some drugs were sourced, could sow seeds of doubt in patients' minds. The signed agreement between U.S. authorities and Strempler states some drugs in shipments "were not consistent" with the name brands they were alleged to represent.

Strempler was living in Panama with his family prior to his arrest in a Miami airport last June.

bill.redekop@freepress.mb.ca

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