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Gold medal winning skip charged with smuggling fake Viagra

The Canadian Press

4/21/2010 9:53:08 PM

VANCOUVER -- Less than one month after he won gold at the Vancouver Paralympics, wheelchair curling skip Jim Armstrong was arrested for allegedly trying to smuggle thousands of counterfeit pills into Canada.

Armstrong, whose picture is still splashed on the front page of the Canadian Paralympic Committee's website, has been charged with trafficking in counterfeit goods after he was taken into custody April 15 in Blaine, Wash.

Documents filed in U.S. District Court in Seattle accuse the 59-year-old of picking up fake Viagra and Cialis tablets from a U.S. postal box.

The complaint, which includes a summary of events from special agent Jim A. Burkhardt of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, says Armstrong picked up the pills so his son could then distribute them in Vancouver-area clubs.

"James Armstrong admitted to retrieving the counterfeit drugs from Blaine, Washington and transporting the drugs to British Columbia, Canada," Burkhardt wrote in the complaint.

"James Armstrong acknowledged that his conduct was illegal."

Armstrong did not return calls seeking comment. None of the charges against him have been proven in court, where he's due back April 30. He was released from custody April 16 after posting a $20,000 bond.

A Canadian Paralympic Committee spokeswoman declined comment on Armstrong's case, saying it's a personal matter.

The court documents say the pills arrived in Los Angeles from China April 7 and were inspected by customs officials. Inside they found 2,544 tablets of a drug labelled as Viagra and 260 tablets of a drug labelled Cialis. Both are erectile dysfunction pills.

Customs officials suspected the tablets were fake and contacted both pharmaceutical providers. Both companies said the pills looked like knock-offs. The Cialis pills seemed far too thick, while the Viagra pills had a different-coloured logo.

The parcel was meant for Blaine and addressed to Carleen Armstrong, the curler's late wife.

Burkhardt said when he arrived in Washington state to further investigate, he was provided with a list of all parcels delivered to the mailbox in the past year.

"The list shows a very large number of parcels or boxes arriving at this postal mail box from various foreign countries including China and India," he wrote in the complaint.

Many of the counterfeit pills that end up in the United States come through China, the complaint reads.

An employee at the postal outlet in Blaine told Burkhardt she was very familiar with Armstrong, because he receives an inordinately high number of shipments from other countries. The employee said Armstrong visits at least once a week to pick up his boxes.

Immediately after his pickup on April 15, he was arrested.

Armstrong participated in his first Paralympics last month and his rink beat South Korea 8-7 in the gold medal game on March 20.

After the win, Armstrong described the moment as bittersweet since Carleen couldn't be there to enjoy it with him. She passed away in September after a battle with cancer.

While the Paralympics marked Armstrong's finest hour in the sport, curling itself was nothing new to him.

He competed in the Brier six times, twice as a skip, and lost on the last rock in the Canadian final in 1987.

Sgt. Duncan Pound with the RCMP's border integrity program said it's not unusual to see someone trying to smuggle counterfeit erectile dysfunction pills across the border.

"Either one of those two main brands definitely do show up for importation into Canada," he said.