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Ark Pharm’s Shady Side

Once in a while we have discussions of chemical suppliers around here – but we haven’t had one like this. On Friday afternoon, word came out that Ark Pharm, a reasonably well-known firm out of Chicago, had been raided by the DEA. That becomes abundantly clear if you try to access the company’s web site. I’ve ordered compounds from these folks over the years, and I’ll bet that a good number of readers here have as well. The company was particularly noted for low prices, albeit with (so I’ve heard) an occasionally idiosyncratic approach to customer service, although I never had any problems myself.

But if you have an open order with them for something, I think it’s time to search for an alternate source. The owner of the company was arrested after getting off a plane from China and charged with conspiracy to distribute a controlled substance, and their warehouse was raided as well. One problem is that they were selling a variety of controlled substances (for research use only, naturally) without any of the require licensing to handle these materials. How does one even import these things as a business without such paperwork? Well, the article also says that the authorities started investigating the company when a number of shipments of plastic labware destined for Ark Pharm were seized when they turned out to also have illegal drugs inside them as well. Update: via the comments section, here is the criminal complaint that goes into details on this.

Yeah, that’ll do it.That Chicago Tribune article says that the company made nearly 30,000 shipments out of its facility during 2016, and probably leaves its readers with the impression that all of this was fentanyl et al. But that’s definitely not the case – the company had a large legitimate catalog of reagents, reference compounds, and intermediates. But apparently selling heterocycles, amines, and boronic acids wasn’t quite profitable enough, so they were heading into the higher-margin end of the chemical supply business. Bad move.

37 comments on “Ark Pharm’s Shady Side”

  1. Still might be fine IF paperwork is the only thing out-of-compliance. Like you, I thought U.S. Customs makes it impossible to receive controlled substances without proper paperwork.

  2. A Nonny Mouse says:

    Hmmm, bet these things don’t come up on an eMolecules search!

  3. Heliastes says:

    better start doing NMR on all my Ark Pharm bottles and make sure I didn’t get a mixup with their ‘side business’ 😮

  4. John Wayne says:

    As a person who imports controlled and other substances for legitimate and licenced research purposes, I can tell you that the regulatory oversight involved is … onerous. It would certainly give you a cost advantage if you didn’t deal with the regulatory issues, allowing a company to deliver great value to it’s customers. If they did what you are saying it is illegal, but not immoral (assuming nothing hit the street.)

    1. A Nonny Mouse says:

      ……..From November 2016 to earlier this month, law enforcement surreptitiously corresponded with email accounts belonging to Ark Pharm, and conducted five undercover purchases of controlled substances from the company. The drugs were shipped via FedEx, often with Huang’s name listed as the sender, the complaint states………

      1. someone says:

        That’s …. shockingly dumb. They were pretty much asking for a sting operation if they sold drugs to anyone with an email without trying to hide who they were.

      2. ChairmanMao says:

        They waited years to make an arrest and after 5 purchases? How many died during the interim?

        1. John Wayne says:

          Yeah, this is a bit concerning. This sort of behavior from people just makes it harder for those of us trying to get research done. If my paperwork isn’t perfect, my shipments get nabbed by customs and/or the FDA pretty much every time. I guess that is the two-edged sword – regulatory bodies have a lot easier time tightening the rules on those of us who aren’t criminals operating in the open, while the bad guys send over illicit substances crammed into another shipment with no paper trail.

          1. milkshake says:

            I think it took so long was that they wanted to prosecute Ark and CheMail people for conspiracy to sell category I controlled substances where the penalties are really stiff, rather than violation of DEA regulations, and they treated this cautiously like a dark web operation of paranoid druggies as they are use to (whereas in reality it was just a run by nitwits), and there were different jurisdictions etc. Also, it is possible that they did “parallel construction” of evidence, hiding the original source. Or it could be that they could not prove it was a big drug -triad like operation as they originally hoped

        2. aairfccha says:

          Wrong question. You should ask how many didn’t die due to having access to a high-quality supply.

  5. Walter White Laboratory Supplies LLC can expect an early morning visit.

  6. peter says:

    i just ordered one chemical from them last week. how to do

    1. Allex says:

      You may visit http://www.crysdotllc.com for your needs.

    2. mckee says:

      for alternatives, i cross shop at astatech, j&w

  7. An Old Chemist says:

    I and my colleagues, at a few companies, over the past ten plus years, have ordered chemicals from them. On more than one occasion, they delivered us wrong compound, labelled as the compound which we had ordered! When we wrote to them about it, they then sent us the correct compound. They do not supply the chemicals accompanied with NMR and MS.

  8. Michael TD says:

    Order quite a chemicals from them. Actually, just received one on 5/25. Now I know why their products are so much cheaper than other suppliers…

    1. A Nonny Mouse says:

      Having spoken to a chemical supply company that I do a little business with, they are very happy as these guys were driving the prices down to below viable levels.

      Expect prices to increase!

  9. milkshake says:

    From what I was reading in the two related criminal complaints about Ark and CheMall, they were not in the illicit drug business for themselves. They just did not care: they asked the customer to sign a paper it was not for human use and pay with a credit card in advance. They did not check any permits. If you needed a designer opiate (say, Ocfentanyl or butyryl fentanyl) or superpotent hallucinogen like 25C-NBOMe and the card transaction went through, they were happy to have it made for you in China and fedex it to your doorstep for a modest price, e.g. 400-1000 USD a gram for a purified substance… At a recreational dose 0.3-1mg, that’s pretty good deal.

  10. Anon says:

    Chairman Mao has a point- why didn’t they bust Huang in 2014 after the methamphetamine was intercepted? The lights were on in the Obama office but it appears no one was home.

    1. Istvan Ujvary says:

      One single seizure connects two dots only. By following transaction it is possible to map the the whole network (if any).

  11. Chairman Mao says:

    “September 18, 2014, U.S. CBP seized a package originating from Shanghai, China and addressed to the name of the Subject Business. The shipment’s manifest documents stated that the package contained two toy lamps. When CBP examined the package, they discovered that the two toy lamps concealed black plastic foil bags that contained a white crystalline substance”

    Straight out of the criminal complaint for Huang. And the DEA still let it go?

    Why wasn’t this stopped 4 years ago? Instead they allowed Ark to continue selling during this time and causing uncounted tradgedies?

    I call Bullshit on the DEA for letting this lapse so long Milkshake.

  12. Magrinhopalido says:

    I imagine that the DEA and FBI enjoy our second guessing just as much as we enjoy politicians second guessing our work.

    Criminal investigations often go on for years after initial criminal activity is observed. The idea – a very obvious one – is that much can be learned and greater good achieved by understanding and busting bigger networks.

  13. TMS says:

    Did they ship normal heterocyclic intermediates to the US in unmarked containers as well to avoid customs paperwork? Or was it just the Schedule 1 and Schedule 1 knockoffs?

    1. milkshake says:

      many of the chemicals that come from China are routinely mislabeled on purpose, declared as “books” etc. to avoid paying customs for the real value

      To me this does not look like supply house specializing in psychedelics. But if someone gave them a procedure for making pyrovalerone or dimethylone and was willing to pay, they did not look too close.

  14. DDD says:

    You point that people could have been injured as the result of continued sales since 2014 makes sense. However, there could be lots of reasons why DEA didn’t act in 2014. In 2014, Ark Pharm received a shipment with the drugs, they weren’t sending the drugs out. They could have argued that they just ordered the toys, that someone must have added the drugs to frame them.

    DEA likely wanted enough evidence to ensure that the case was successfully prosecuted and resulted in a finding of guilt. If they were unsuccessful or the individual received lesser charges, Ark Pharm could have figured out how to continue to sell or simply gotten away with it. Now, Huang won’t be selling anymore – likely for the rest of his life.

    There may be a political element as well. In other cases, where the US gov’t prosecuted Chinese nationals and evidence was considered weak, they were publicized as having an anti-Chinese bias. If an agency is going to err regarding too much or too little evidence, I’d definitely want too much so that appropriate individuals are charged & convicted (and the reality is: who knows what a jury will decide as “sufficient evidence?). It’s unfortunate and put people at risk during this time.

  15. luysii says:

    If you’re interested in such things but on a much larger scale (millions and millions) I recommend American Kingpin: The Epic Hunt for the Criminal Mastermind Behind the Silk Road Hardcover – May 2, 2017
    by Nick Bilton (Author)

  16. BK says:

    There are many “research only” companies selling prescription drugs, of course, not requiring prescriptions. I won’t name names, but most of the stuff I’ve seen was stuff like ED drugs.

  17. Marcus says:

    You guys are taking this out of proportion. Review the DEA schedule and note that there are many compounds which are schedule III, IV, V, and VI. I do not think Ark Pharm was into schedule I stuff and hurting people.

    1. burningbend says:

      Did you read anything about this blog post? The article specifically mentioned at least fentanyl and a precursor. Fentanyl is a schedule II drug, along with cocaine and meth, and there are fentanyl analogues that are schedule I.

      Like seriously, all you have to do is read the damn article.

      1. MAGA says:

        I don’t think you read the article correctly.

        http://www.chicagotribune.com/suburbs/mundelein/news/ct-mun-online-narcotic-sales-charges-tl-0607-story.html

        The company that sold Fentanyl is 1717 CheMall Corp.

        Ark sells “Fentanyl precursor”, as Aldrich does.

        1. Istvan Ujvary says:

          With a proper permit vendors may advertise and sell scheduled chemicals to customers having the similarly proper permit. Such transactions are not at all illegal.

        2. Istvan Ujvary says:

          With a proper permit vendors, including named Aldrich) may advertise and sell scheduled chemicals to customers (forensic labs worldwide, for example) having similarly proper permits. Such transactions are not at all illegal.

    2. MoMo says:

      Out of proportion? Illegal drugs are flooding into this country by unscrupulous purveyors of chemicals, companies it appears Big Pharma does business with- and children and adults are dying in record numbers and it’s out of proportion?

      Tell that to the parents of dead children all across America, fueled by Pharmaceuticals and their executives, and financed by Pharma buying their legitimate reagents for “cheap” and their also addictive products, manufactured cheaply, then layed on America like dime-store candy through the mail.

      I wonder how many of the dead are the children of Pharma execs?

  18. DDD says:

    The Chicago tribune article says “Prosecutors say he used the company to sell controlled substances, including a fentanyl precursor.” It doesn’t say ONLY a “fentanyl precursor.”

    The article also notes: “Both companies’ websites offered “controlled substances that are commonly recreationally abused,” according to each complaint”

    Hence, Ark Pharm didn’t offer “just” a fentanyl precursor.

    To Chairman’s Mao point about DEA getting too much evidence: As can be seen from various posts, some people look for almost anything to let someone avoid blame. In this case, the info in the Tribune article supports Ark Pharm’s apparent guilt, yet it’s been used as evidence to suggest Ark Pharm is no different than Aldrich.

  19. tln says:

    “…But apparently selling heterocycles, amines, and boronic acids wasn’t quite profitable enough, so they were heading into [b]the higher-margin end of the chemical supply business.[/b] Bad move.”

    Euphemism of the day award goes to…

  20. Jupiter says:

    I disagree the “conspiracy” and “knowingly”, as the price pressure constantly on the fine chemical companies, this might be just simple management “ignorance”, most likely. Of course, it is still doesn’t wash out the illegal status, but it is hard to believe use these chemicals as profit driven.

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