Feds bust Gresham man for chloroquine smuggling

Coronavirus

Matthew Owens, 42, faces 23 years in prison

A chemist displays hydroxychloroquine tablets in New Delhi, India. Scientists in Brazil have stopped part of a study of the malaria drug touted as a possible coronavirus treatment after heart rhythm problems developed in one-quarter of people given the higher of two doses being tested. Chloroquine and a similar drug, hydroxychloroquine, have been pushed by President Donald Trump after some early tests suggested the drugs might curb coronavirus entering cells. (AP Photo/Manish Swarup, File)

PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — After an investigation that began less than a month ago, a 42-year-old Gresham man now faces federal charges for trying to import and resell chloroquine, the active prescription ingredient used to treat malaria and the drug President Trump touted as a way to treat COVID-119.

Matthew Owens is accused of illegally buying, importing and trying to sell the pharmaceutical by smuggling and receiving the misbranded drugs, the US Attorney’s Office for the District of Oregon said in a release.

Court documents showed Homeland Security got in touch with the FDA on April 13 after a package with nearly 123 grams of a white powder was intercepted at a FedEx facility in Memphis. The powder was declared as ammonium polyphosphate but was determined to be chloroquine.

The package coming from the Hangzhou Weishi Electronic Commerce Company Ltd in China was addressed to Owens’ apartment in Gresham. Investigators said neither the company nor Owens were registered as having any drug making facilities, nor was Owens a registered physician, pharmacist or nurse.

Two other shipments were found to have gone from China to Owens, authorities said. Both contained chemical compounds used in diet supplements and cosmetics.

When federal agents searched Owens apartment on April 27, they found a number of items, including clear, empty capsules, a foil bag with powder and a material safety sheet for polyacrylamide, one of the chemical compound from the shipments.

Investigators said Owens cell phone and Facebook Messenger messages showed conversations to buy and receipts for the choloroquine from Alibaba.com. Investigators said other messages talked about selling the chloroquine as a treatment for COVID-19.

Owens appeared in federal court Monday. If convicted, he faces 23 years in federal prison, 3 years supervised release and a $500,000 fine.

For the record, the FDA not only warns of risk with this Trump-promoted drug for COVID-19 patients, they also said it has no benefit at all against the coronavirus.

Continuing Coverage: Coronavirus

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