Photo by Stephen Siciliano
Defendant Sean Gerson stands with his attorney, Deborah Gonzalez, outside the Los Angeles courtroom where he was arraigned today.
A California man charged with the illegal sale of veterinary pharmaceuticals and pet flea-control products pleaded not guilty before a federal court in Los Angeles today.
Sean Lawrence Gerson and his company, Vaccination Services Inc., are accused of marketing the drugs Comfortis and ciprofloxacin without the authorization of a veterinarian.
The defendant was arraigned in U.S. District Court for the Central District of California before U.S. Magistrate Judge Karen Stevenson.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Joseph Johns asked the court to detain Gerson, claiming he had violated the conditions of his $25,000 bail. Johns did not specify the nature of the violations.
Gerson's attorney, Deborah Gonzalez of the Office of the Federal Public Defender, said her client had not been given adequate notice and that, in any case, the government was required to file a motion if detention of her client is what it sought.
Judge Stevenson denied the detention request. The court set a Jan. 30 status hearing to be followed by a March 7 trial.
Neither a veterinarian nor a pharmacist, Gerson allegedly sells drugs from websites sporting claims such as “Prescription from your local veterinarian not required.”
Under the Federal Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act (FDCA), a prescription animal drug may be dispensed only by a veterinarian.
Similarly, the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA) prohibits the the sale of pesticides, in this case flea and tick products, that are not registered with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
An indictment filed with the district court Jan. 10 alleges that in August, Gerson “knowingly introduced and delivered for introduction into interstate commerce from California to Missouri” the aforementioned veterinary pharmaceuticals.
He did so, the indictment says, with intent to defraud the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.
A second count accuses Gerson and his Lake Forest, California, company of introducing an unregistered pesticide into Los Angeles County in June 2012 for sale.
Count three of the indictment entails the February 2013 illegal introduction of an unregistered pesticide. A fourth count involves a similar FIFRA violation in December 2016.
The affidavit of FDA special agent Jared Davis revealed that Gerson served as a confidential informant, although it does not specify for what.
Other informants collaborating with Davis said Gerson sold prescription drugs and pet products in counterfeit boxes through the website www.fleastuff.com without valid prescriptions.
An investigator with the California Department of Consumer Affairs notified Davis of complaints about another website, www.mydoghasfleas.xyz, which dispensed the drug Clavamox in packages identifying Gerson's company as the sender.
The federal prosecution is not Gerson's first brush with the law.
An investigation by the VIN News Service published in September detailed Gerson’s trail of legal problems.
In 2014, he was convicted in Texas for illegal sale of the drug clenbuterol, a bronchodilator that improves horses' breathing. He was fined $3,000 and jailed for two days before he returned to his business of dispensing animal medications.
Gerson also owes the state of California $440,700 in fines for the unauthorized sale of the flea-products Frontline and Advantage. He was prosecuted for doing so in 2003 and 2004. A second fine was issued for subsequent violations of state law regulating pesticides sales in 2007.
He is followed by a paper trail of unpaid debts, as well.
According to documents filed in Superior Court for the County of Orange, where Gerson lives, he owes $174,311 to World Logistics Services, Inc., a purveyor of pet medications, among other smaller but significant sums to other providers of such products.
Public records indicate that Gerson has been undeterred by his legal and pecuniary problems and continues the proscribed peddling of animal pharmaceuticals and pet flea-control products.
He is not the sole practitioner in the shadowy trade. The National Association of Boards of Pharmacy says that 96 percent of the 11,000 online drug outlets it has reviewed are in conflict with laws and practice standards governing the dispensation of pet medicines.
Most veterinary pharmaceutical manufacturers have an official policy of selling only through licensed veterinarians, although there are exceptions. How unlicensed vendors obtain the drugs has been a vexing question for decades.