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Store Owner Sentenced for Running Illegal Pharmacies

Courts: The Northridge woman receives four years in prison after pleading guilty to charges of possession of a controlled substance for sale.


SAN FERNANDO — A 54-year-old Northridge woman was sentenced to four years behind bars Thursday for operating a chain of illegal pharmacies in the San Fernando Valley.

San Fernando Superior Court Judge Meredith C. Taylor sentenced Santa Elba Hernandez to state prison after she pleaded guilty to two counts of possession of a controlled substance for sale.

Co-defendants Gloria Nieves , 56, of Northridge, Emma Sotelo , 55, of Slymar, Christopher Galero , 50, of La Puente and Edwin Hernandez , 32, of Northridge also pleaded guilty and will serve sentences ranging from six days to six months.

Two other defendants named in the complaint, Hipolito Alvarez , 40, and Oscar Casteneda , 41, remain at large, authorities said.

Elba Hernandez operated a chain of pharmacies known as La Colera (The Bee Hive) stores in Van Nuys, Arleta, Panorama City and Sun Valley, according to Deputy Dist. Atty. David Mintz.

Last year, she and her co-defendants were charged after the Medical Board of California found that they were selling illegal pharmaceuticals, Mintz said.

In March, a task force made up of the Los Angeles County Health Department, the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department and the Los Angeles Police Department seized drugs worth about $1 million from the Van Nuys store in a crackdown on the illegal sale of prescription medications.

Saying there were "enough drugs to stock Thrifty or a Sav-On," authorities seized codeine syrups, Valium and penicillin, which can only be sold legally with prescriptions.

They also confiscated medications banned under U.S. law because of their life-threatening side effects, including Dipiron, an anti-inflammatory, and Sexpronto, a steroid marketed as a sexual aid for men.

The raid came a week after the death of an 18-month-old Anaheim girl, Selene Segura Rios, shortly after she received what was believed to be an injection of penicillin by an unlicensed practitioner at a gift shop in Tustin.

The businesses cater to immigrants, selling everything from food and clothing to toys. But some also make unauthorized drug sales and offer unlicensed medical care, which in recent months has gained the attention of authorities.

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