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Paralympic curling skip arrested in U.S. over counterfeit drugs

Jim Armstrong at the Richmond Curling Club in Richmond, B.C.

Lyle Stafford/lyle stafford The Globe and Mail

The skip of Canada's gold-medal Paralympic curling team has been charged in the United States with trafficking in counterfeit drugs.

According to documents filed in a Washington court, Jim Armstrong of Richmond, B.C., was arrested in Blaine, Wash., last Thursday while trying to pick up a package containing thousands of counterfeit Viagra and Cialis pills.

The documents said he told investigators his son bought the drugs and distributes them at clubs in the Vancouver area.

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Mr. Armstrong, 59, a former dentist, had been scheduled to attend a lunch with Prime Minister Stephen Harper in Ottawa on Wednesday with the rest of the wheelchair curlers, but decided not to make the journey, the Paralympic team's coach said yesterday.

The court complaint, filed April 16, said Mr. Armstrong "caused the introduction into interstate commerce of a misbranded drug with intent to mislead or defraud." It also alleges he was involved in the trafficking of these counterfeit drugs.

Jim Burkhardt, the Food and Drug Administration Special Agent who filed the court document, arrested Mr. Armstrong outside a Mail Boxes International Store in Blaine, where he had arrived to pick up a package, the document said.

Upon his arrest, "James Armstrong admitted to retrieving the counterfeit drugs from Blaine … and transporting the drugs to British Columbia," Mr. Burkhardt wrote in the court filing. "[He]acknowledged that his conduct was illegal."

Mr. Armstrong could not be reached for comment Wednesday evening.

The investigation began on April 7, when customs and border protection officials in Los Angeles alerted the FDA about a package containing a large quantity of what they suspected to be counterfeit drugs. The package, declared as "Health Products," had come from Hyyuan, China, and was bound for Blaine, Wash., the court document said.

On April 9, Mr. Burkhardt received the shipment of detained drugs. In it, he found 2,544 tablets of a drug labelled as Viagara and 260 tablets of a drug labelled Cialis. The drugs, most commonly used to treat sexual dysfunction, are also the most common drugs used in counterfeit schemes, Mr. Burkhardt said in the filing. He said he found inconsistencies between the legitimate product and those in the box.

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After investigating the people associated with the post office box in Blaine listed on the package (which included Mr. Armstrong and two others with the same surname) he got in touch with staff at Mail Boxes International. When interviewed on April 12, employees there said they were familiar with Mr. Armstrong, and said he "receives an inordinately high number of shipments from foreign countries," the court document said.

Mr. Armstrong was released after posting bond on a $20,000 (U.S.) bail and is due to appear in a Seattle court on April 30 for a preliminary examination.

Paralympic team coach Joe Rea said last night that he was surprised to learn about the charges through the local media.

"I thought it was a joke to begin with," he said, adding that he received an e-mail from Mr. Armstrong when he arrived at work Wednesday saying everything was going to be okay and that he was going to be cleared.

"It's a very unfortunate situation right now, but I think he's going to sort through it."

The men's curling team won 8-7 against South Korea in the Vancouver Paralympics gold medal game.

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