When investigators from the California Department of Public Health (CDPH) and the Department of Consumer Affairs (DCA) teamed up with federal law enforcement partners to uncover the sale of cosmetic contact lenses without a prescription, they found plenty of illegal activity.
In the first week of November, their Los Angeles area investigation, dubbed Operation Cat Eyes, lead to criminal charges against 12 people and businesses now accused of illegally selling cosmetic contact lenses, some of which were contaminated with dangerous pathogens.
"Our CDPH and DCA investigators tackle this every year around Halloween and every year they find retailers willing to put someone's eyesight at risk just to make a buck," said Alan Barcelona, president of the California Statewide Law Enforcement Association (CSLEA) which represents the investigators. "This operation works to protect unsuspecting consumers and charge those who sell contact lenses without a prescription. "
Buying and wearing cosmetic contact lenses without a prescription can be harmful to the eyes and even lead to blindness. In two of the cases, investigators found contact lenses that were contaminated with bacteria known as Bacillus cereus. According to court documents, the Bacillus cereus bacterial strain can cause severe infections that, even with prompt treatment, can lead to blindness.
Operation “Cat Eyes,” was conducted by the United States Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA’s) Import Operations Branch of the Los Angeles District Office; the FDA’s Office of Criminal Investigations; the California Department of Public Health; and the California Department of Consumer Affairs’ Division of Investigation, Health Quality Investigation Unit.
Operation Cat Eyes targeted retail stores – some of which were opened specifically for Halloween – that sold cosmetic and decorative contact lenses without a prescription to unsuspecting consumers in Southern California.
Contact lenses – whether corrective, cosmetic or decorative – are considered to be prescription medical devices subject to FDA regulations. Due to the risk of injury, blindness and possible eye infection, all contact lenses require prescriptions from medical professionals who can provide guidance on the proper care and maintenance of the contact lenses.
- Halloween and Party Discounters, Inc.
(which operated as a booth at the Los Angeles Fair in Pomona)
Mike Honabach, 45, of Highland, the owner of Halloween and Party Discounters, Inc.
Intertrade Imports, Inc.,
(a Jacksonville, Florida company)
Eunju Kang Savvidis, 53, of Jacksonville, the manager of Intertrade
- Aspirational International, Inc., a Hong Kong corporation which offering misbranded contact lenses for sale via a website.
- Doris Owusu Ansah, 54, of West Covina, the owner of Sunset Beauty Salon in West Covina
- Jung Rae Jo, 60, of Cerritos, the owner of Fashion Young in Westminster
- CKL Fashion, Inc.
(a Corona-based company that operates T-Shirt Mart in Glendale)
Young Kim, 51, of La Crescenta, manager of CKL
- HTS General, Inc.
(doing business as the Halloween Superstore on North Glendale Avenue in Glendale)
Zinaida Khrimyan, 25, of Glendale, the owner of HTS
Patrick Abedi, 30, of Glendale, the store manager for HTS
All 12 defendants are scheduled to appear for arraignments in federal court in Los Angeles on December 9.
All of the charges filed in Operation Cat Eyes are misdemeanor offenses that carry a statutory maximum penalty of one year in federal prison and fines of up to $100,000 for an individual and up to $200,000 for a corporation.