Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Ex-online pharmacy titan arrested in U.S.

Flashy Strempler detained, charged with conspiracy, mail fraud

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It's a staggering tale that took a young man from a high-flying Internet entrepreneur in Minnedosa to a jail cell in Miami in a decade.

The epic rise of 38-year-old Andrew Strempler as an online pharmacy magnate crashed after his arrest this past Wednesday at the Miami International Airport, as he made his way to Canada from South America.

Strempler -- once profiled by the New York Times as a "rich man" who went out of his way not to disguise his wealth -- had attracted notice as one of Manitoba's most flamboyant young businessmen as he built the online pharmacy business RxNorth.com from a century-old building in downtown Minnedosa.

That success meant the purchase of a Wellington Crescent mansion that once belonged to Leonard Asper and a collection of flashy cars that included two Dodge Vipers and a yellow Lamborghini.

Strempler was charged Wednesday with one count of conspiracy to commit mail fraud, as well as two counts of mail fraud.

As of Friday, he was at a federal detention centre in Miami.

Prisoners in the jail must wake up at 6 a.m. on weekdays and submit to cell inspections.

Jay Boschman, a Brandon-based pharmacist who almost went into business with Strempler, said he was "not surprised at all" to hear about what happened.

The pair met in the 1990s at a pharmacy in Rossburn. Strempler struck Boschman as a "sharp person," and the pair shared Christian beliefs as Strempler developed his business.

"He was young, and he was energetic, and I thought he was a sharp, sharp pharmacist," said Boschman.

But the two drifted apart and haven't spoken in more than a decade.

"As he became richer and richer, he seemed to disregard maybe some of the laws of the land," said Boschman.

Court documents filed in Miami show authorities are seeking the forfeiture of US$95 million it's alleged Strempler received through crime.

The charges against Strempler date from a period between January 2005 to June 2006.

Documents filed in a U.S. District Court in Florida allege Strempler -- as founder and owner of Mediplan Health Consulting, which also operated under the name RxNorth.com -- had received a letter in 2001 saying his drug sales south of the border would be illegal if the products weren't approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

The Free Press chronicled some of the further hurdles the business faced, after Strempler bought out his partners and sold it in 2006, the same year the FDA warned drugs purchased from the firm were unsafe.

By 2009, Strempler had struck his name from a provincial pharmacy registry and had to pay $7,500 to stay charges against him at a disciplinary hearing at the Manitoba Pharmaceutical Asssociation.

The court documents say Strempler and others used a facility named Personal Touch in Freeport, the Bahamas, "to dispense prescription drugs purchased from RxNorth," from January 2005 to June 2006.

"Andrew J. Strempler and others caused prescription orders made through RxNorth to be filled at the facility in the Bahamas, with labels on the vials and drug cartons stating they had been filled by RxNorth in Canada," said court documents.

Strempler was licensed as a pharmacist in Manitoba, said the documents, and Mediplan was also based in the province.

"It was the purpose of the conspiracy for the defendant and his co-conspirators to unlawfully enrich themselves by selling prescription drugs in the United States, falsely representing that RxNorth was selling safe prescription drugs in compliance with the rules of regulatory authorities in Canada, the United Kingdom and/or the United States, when in fact... (they) obtained the prescription drugs from various other countries without properly ensuring the safety or authenticity of the drugs," said the documents.

U.S. marshals arrested Strempler at the Miami airport on a pending warrant, said Alicia Valle, special counsel to the U.S. attorney.

Strempler's Miami-based lawyer did not respond to a message left with her office Friday.

RCMP D Division spokesman Cpl. Miles Hiebert said there were no outstanding warrants for Strempler's arrest in Canada and he is not facing criminal charges here.

gabrielle.giroday@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition June 16, 2012 A5

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