Federal agents yesterday arrested employees and former employees of Boeing’s [BA] Ridley Park, Pa., plant as well as one non-employee “in a coordinated, long-term, undercover effort aimed at prescription drug abuse at the manufacturing plant,” officials said.

Defendants were entering pleas at initial court hearings late yesterday as Defense Daily went to press.  

The arrests were revealed by United States Attorney Zane David Memeger, who was joined by FBI Special Agent-in-Charge George Venizelos, and Drug Enforcement Administration Acting Special Agent-in-Charge Vito Guarino.

Indictments were unsealed against 23 individuals charging each with the illegal distribution of a prescription drug.

The drugs being distributed by these defendants “include but are not limited to fentanyl (Actiq), oxycodone (Oxycontin), alprazolam (Xanax), and buprenorphine (Suboxone), said a statement from the U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania.

In addition to the indictments, 14 other defendants are charged by information with attempted possession of the various drugs being sold by their co-workers, the statement said. This is a misdemeanor charge, which is the reason they are not charged by indictment.

The charges allege that each defendant either sold a controlled substance to an FBI cooperator or bought what was believed to be a controlled substance from the cooperator but which was, in fact, a placebo. 

An internal investigation determined that potentially illegal activities were being conducted by certain employees at the Philadelphia Boeing facility, Damien Mills, a Boeing spokesman, said.   “Boeing reported the company’s findings to federal law enforcement officials and cooperated fully with the subsequent investigation and interdiction.”

Boeing commended the “rigorous and thorough” investigation by federal agencies, “throughout which we took appropriate steps to ensure safety of our employees and the absolute integrity and quality of the products we produce for our customers,” Mills said.

Memeger said, “This investigation and prosecution focused not only on the sellers, but also on the users because of the critical role that these employees play in manufacturing military aircraft,” “Prescription drug abuse has been on the rise in our community, and this is just one example of how pervasive the problem is.”

Venizelos said, “Drug abuse and the illegal sale and purchase of controlled substances are serious criminal problems in the U.S. today, and those who engage in the sale and distribution of pharmaceutical drugs will be targeted. The abuse of prescription narcotic drugs can be as dangerous and devastating as the use of illegal drugs.”

Guarino said, “The defendants in this case are accused of diverting controlled substances and selling them to alleged abusers without any medical supervision. These sales placed the individual abusers, as well as society at large, at risk. Part of DEA’s mission is to investigate the unlawful diversion of pharmaceutical controlled substances and bring those involved to justice, whether it is a doctor, pharmacist, or street distributor.” 

The FBI and DEA investigated the case. It is being prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorneys Faithe Moore Taylor and Ashley Lunkenheimer.