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Guilty Plea Likely in Web Fertility Drugs Case

by Christine McConville,  Boston Herald,  Feb 9, 2009

A former Boston woman who has been charged with selling her infertility drugs on the Internet plans to plead guilty, authorities have learned.

The change of plea is the latest twist in the long-running case of Heidi Benham, a 43-year-old woman who reportedly made $125,000 by selling coveted fertility medicine on the black market.

Benham was indicted in April 2008 by a U.S. District Court grand jury on eight counts of mail fraud and seven counts of rebranding prescription medication.

Her attorney, Daniel Clougherty, did not respond to repeated requests for comment.

Fertility experts, meanwhile, say the case shines a light into the dangerous but lucrative world of second-hand fertility drugs.

“It’s illegal and dangerous,” said Stuart Levine, a founding pharmacist at Village Fertility Pharmacy in Waltham.

The practice is very troubling, he said, in part because the sellers often exploit women who are desperate for a baby, but can’t afford costly fertility medications.

The typical in vitro fertilization treatment costs $10,000, and the accompanying medicines cost another $4,000.

Also, he said, secondhand buyers have no guarantees these fragile, but powerful drugs have been properly handled.

“They can absolutely be very dangerous if they are misused,” Levine said.

Authorities say that in 2001, Benham obtained health insurance from a Boston company that covered the cost of her fertility treatments.

She then underwent multiple infertility procedures and received prescriptions for the fertility drugs Repronex, Follistim, Gonal-F, Lupron and Ovidrel.

While the insurance company paid hundreds of thousands of dollars for the medicine, Benham earned some $125,000 by selling that medicine on the Internet, the indictment states.

To solicit customers, Benham placed classified ads on the Internet, court documents show.

Initially, Benham pleaded not guilty, but in December 2008, her lawyer filed a change of plea notice.

The U.S. Attorney’s Office said Benham lived in Somerville, Newton and West Roxbury while she was running her alleged criminal enterprise.

She has since relocated to New Jersey.

Benham faces up to 20 years in prison.


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