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Thieves' sophisticated haul nets $75M in drugs

HARTFORD - In a Hollywood-style heist, thieves cut a hole in the roof of a warehouse, rappelled inside and scored one of the biggest hauls of its kind - not diamonds, gold bullion or Old World art, but about $75 million in antidepressants and other prescription drugs.

The pills - stolen from the pharmaceutical giant Eli Lilly & Co. in quantities big enough to fill a tractor-trailer - are believed to be destined for the black market, perhaps overseas.

"This is like the Brink's pill heist," said Erik Gordon, a University of Michigan business professor who studies the health care industry. "This one will enter the folklore."

The thieves apparently scaled the brick exterior of the warehouse in an industrial park in Enfield, a town about midway between Hartford and Springfield, Mass., during a blustery rainstorm before daybreak Sunday. After lowering themselves to the floor, they disabled the alarms and spent at least an hour loading pallets of drugs into a vehicle at the loading dock, authorities said.

"Just by the way it occurred, it appears that there were several individuals involved and that it was a very well planned-out and orchestrated operation," Enfield Police Chief Carl Sferrazza said. Experts described it as one of the biggest pharmaceutical heists in history.

Edward Sagebiel, a spokesman for Indianapolis-based Eli Lilly, put the wholesale value of the drugs at $75 million and said they included the antidepressants Prozac and Cymbalta and the anti-psychotic Zyprexa. No narcotics or other painkillers were in the warehouse, he said.

Other pharmaceutical warehouses have been hit with similar burglaries in recent years, but experts said the value of the Eli Lilly heist far eclipses any other prescription-drug thefts they have tracked. The thieves could easily net $20 million to $25 million, Gordon said.

Enfield police would not say whether the building had surveillance video or whether employees are being investigated. The building is unmarked and unprotected by fences.

The FBI was called in.

Experts said the heist shared traits with warehouse thefts of pharmaceuticals last year near Richmond, Va., Memphis, Tenn., and Olive Branch, Miss. Those thieves also cut through ceilings and sometimes used trapeze-style rigging to get inside and disable the alarms.

"The level of sophistication in these thefts is very high," said Dan Burges, director of intelligence at FreightWatch International, a Texas-based security company.

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