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News of the Weird

Monday May 20, 2002

Imposter Viagra? 


NEW YORK — Seven people and five companies have been indicted on charges of making and selling counterfeit versions of the anti-impotence drug Viagra. 

Defendants in China and India made the pills while others in Nevada, Colorado and Hong Kong sold them over the Internet to distributors, Manhattan District Attorney Robert Morgenthau said Friday. 

Undercover investigators bought 25,000 fake pills for about $38,000, Morgenthau said. 

Viagra is made exclusively by Pfizer Corp. and is one of the company’s blockbuster drugs. The blue, diamond-shaped pills cost about $10 each retail. 

Investigators seized tools that shaped and stamped the fake pills to look like the real thing, along with gutted toys, stereo speakers and other items used to smuggle the pills. 

The counterfeit pills have Viagra’s active ingredient, sildenafil citrate, but in inconsistent strengths and have different inert additives, Morgenthau said. 

Among the charges against the defendants are trademark counterfeiting, which is punishable by up to 15 years in prison. 

Three defendants are fugitives, while others have made court appearances or are awaiting extradition. 


Food posion scare  


YONKERS, N.Y. — A food preservative was to blame for the sudden outbreak of illness that triggered a chemical-contamination scare in downtown Yonkers, a health official said. 

“The food that the family digested was heavily contaminated with sodium nitrite,” said Mary Landrigan, spokeswoman for the Westchester County Department of Health. “In that quantity it can be deadly.” 

Six victims were taken to St. Joseph’s Medical Center Thursday night with severe breathing problems, bluish pallors and mental confusion. Because the cause was not immediately known, police, firefighters, hazardous-materials workers and anti-terrorist agents were deployed. 

One victim remained in critical condition Saturday; another was in critical but stable condition, a hospital spokeswoman said. 

Health officials said the victims, identified only as adults of Egyptian heritage, had been at a dinner party featuring a dish that included food from Egypt. 

Officials narrowed their hunt for a cause Saturday to a substance, in a packet labeled in English and Arabic, that the victims said they had sprinkled on their meal. 

“A sample from a packet labeled ’refined iodized table salt’ did not contain table salt — it was 100 percent sodium nitrite,” Landrigan said. 

Officials said they did not suspect foul play, but were still investigating 


Boat goes down  


KEY LARGO, Fla. — A 510-foot Navy ship that was supposed to be scuttled with explosives to create a giant artificial reef unexpectedly sank Friday, sending workers scrambling to get off and spoiling the party for everyone but perhaps the fish. 

The 46-year-old Spiegel Grove started going down as workers made last-minute preparations for blowing holes in the ship and sending it to its underwater grave, where it was envisioned as a divers’ paradise. A tugboat had to carry the workers to safety.