NEW HAVEN — A Miami man charged with participating in the 2010 theft of about $90 million in drugs from an Eli Lilly warehouse in Enfield pleaded guilty in federal court.
Amed Villa, 48, a Cuban who was living in Miami until his arrest, pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit theft from an interstate shipment and two counts of theft from interstate shipment. He faces up to 25 years in prison.
Villa also pleaded guilty to the January 2010 theft of $8 million worth of cigarettes and a cargo trailer from East Peoria, Ill.
In both thefts, Villa and others bypassed security systems and used tools to cut through warehouse roofs to gain access. The FBI and Enfield police investigated the March 2010 theft from the warehouse on Freshwater Boulevard.
The thieves scaled a wall, cut a hole in the roof, then used ropes to lower themselves to the floor of the 70,000-square-foot building. They then used a forklift truck to load about 53 pallets of drugs into a trailer truck, the government said.
Villa, 46, and his 37-year-old brother, Amaury Villa, were arrested May 3 in Florida on federal theft and conspiracy charges. The theft was called the biggest in Connecticut history. The two men are described by authorities as members of a sophisticated group of warehouse burglars and truck-hijackers responsible for thefts of large quantities of pharmaceuticals and other goods along the East Coast and in the Midwest.
The drugs stolen in the Eli Lilly heist — Gemzar, a chemotherapy drug for lung cancer patients; the antipsychotic Zyprexa; and Cymbalta and Prozac, used to treat depression and anxiety; were recovered last year from a storage facility in Florida, authorities said.
Federal authorities said DNA helped them break the case. Amed Villa touched a water bottle that he left behind. Investigators also tracked the travel, hotel stays, tool purchases and car and truck rentals of those the government says were involved.
Industry experts have said that the numbers of thefts such as the Lilly job in Enfield has grown sharply as sophisticated criminals try to feed a growing black market demand for high-priced prescription medications, including anti-depressants, blood thinners and insulin.
The Enfield warehouse is one of three national distribution centers that Lilly operates.
The theft there had similarities to thefts from pharmaceutical warehouses a year earlier near Richmond, Va.; Memphis, Tenn.; and Olive Branch, Miss. Thieves there cut through roofs and sometimes used trapeze-style rigging to get inside and disable alarm systems. In some cases, they spray-painted security camera lenses; in others, they stole disks from the security recording devices.
Federal authorities in Florida said the group associated with the Villa brothers was responsible for the theft of truckloads of pharmaceuticals from truck stops in Pennsylvania, Ohio and Tennessee and from a GlaxoSmithKline warehouse in Virginia.
By David Owens, Hartford Courant