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$80-million mystery solved? Brothers held in pharmaceutical heist

May 03, 2012|By Michael Muskal

Two brothers from Cuba have been arrested in the $80-million heist of pharmaceutical drugs from a Connecticut warehouse, solving what was one of the largest -- and most daring -- such robberies in U.S. history, officials said Thursday.

Some of the drugs believed stolen in the March 2010 robbery of the Enfield, Conn., building were recovered in a storage facility in Florida, officials said at a news conference from New Haven, Conn. At least 11 people were arrested Thursday in Florida, accused of possessing and selling stolen goods -- including some from the Connecticut warehouse.

An errant water bottle played a role in identifying the suspects, officials said.

Amaury Villa, 37, and Amed Villa, 46, citizens of Cuba who have been living in Miami, were arrested in connection with the Connecticut robbery. During the heist, thieves scaled a wall of the Eli Lilly & Co. warehouse, cut a hole in the roof, then lowered themselves with ropes into the interior, officials said. Once inside, the suspects disabled the security system and loaded dozens of pallets of costly anti-depressants and other drugs onto a truck.

The Villa brothers were charged in an indictment unsealed Thursday with conspiracy and theft of interstate shipment, according to U.S. Atty. David B. Fein.

“The charges announced today are the result of a sustained and thorough investigation by the FBI and the Enfield Police Department,” Fein said. “As a result of their efforts, and our counterparts in Florida and across the country, we believe that a prolific cargo theft ring has been dismantled.”

At the televised news conference, Enfield Police Chief Carl Sferrazza praised the spirit of cooperation that led to the arrests; the heist was the biggest in the state’s history and one of the largest thefts of legal drugs in the nation.

“I am extremely happy that the alleged perpetrators in this case have been identified and arrested,” Sferrazza said. “I believe this case shows that collaborative efforts between federal law enforcement officers and local law enforcement officers can yield successful results.”

The robbery reads like the plot of a “Mission Impossible,” movie, complete with an unexpected twist.

According to the indictment emailed to reporters, Amaury Villa flew from Miami to LaGuardia Airport in January 2010, rented a car and drove to Windsor, Conn., where he checked into a hotel. The following day, Eli Lilly surveillance video captured an individual looking through the front door of the warehouse in Enfield.

On the day before the robbery, two individuals purchased a “particular combination of tools” at a Home Depot in Flushing, N.Y., officials allege.

Just before the heist, Amaury Villa again flew from Miami to LaGuardia Airport, arriving in the early morning hours of March 13, according to the indictment. Villa rented a car and, later that morning, checked into a hotel in Windsor, Conn.

Between 10:22 p.m. and 10:32 p.m. on the night of March 13, 2010,  surveillance video recorded individuals at the scene. After 10:30 p.m., the individuals using the tools purchased at Home Depot cut a hole in the roof of the warehouse and disabled parts of the facility’s security system, authorities say.

Over the next five hours, Amed Villa and others used a forklift inside the warehouse to load numerous boxes of drugs, including the schizophrenia drug Zyprexa, the antidepressant Prozac and the chemotherapy drug Gemzar, into a tractor-trailer truck, officials charge. During that time, they say, Amed Villa touched a water bottle that had been stored within the warehouse; he reportedly left that bottle inside the warehouse when he departed.

Officials did not give further details about the evidence, saying they were waiting for the trial to present it

The tractor-trailer carrying the stolen drugs was on the road by 3:40 a.m. on March 14.

Later that morning, Amaury Villa checked out of the hotel room, and his rental car is logged going through a southbound toll station on the Bronx-Whitestone Bridge at approximately 11:35 a.m. On March 15, he flew from LaGuardia Airport to Miami, according to the charges.

In Connecticut, Amaury Villa and Amed Villa are each charged with one count of conspiracy to commit theft from an interstate shipment; that charge carries a maximum penalty of five years. They also face four counts of theft from an interstate shipment; each of those counts could bring 10 years in prison.

In Florida, 11 people -- including Amaury Villa -- face a variety of charges, including attempting to sell some of the medications taken from Enfield. A storage facility in Florida was searched in October 2011, and some of the drugs from Connecticut were recovered, officials said.

As part of the overall investigation, Amed Villa has been charged with the theft of more than 3,500 cases of cigarettes valued at more than $8 million from a warehouse in Tazewell County, Ill., near Peoria, on Jan. 24, 2010, according to an indictment unsealed on Thursday in Illinois.

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Michael.muskal@latimes.com

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