St. Paul Hmongtown Marketplace investigated for illegal distribution of meds

Law enforcement personnel seized hundreds of pounds of unmarked or mismarked pills including penicillin, steroids and opiates from the Hmongtown Marketplace in St. Paul, according to the Ramsey County Sheriff's office.

Police officers, sheriff's deputies and federal agents served a search warrant at one building in the marketplace and found drugs in 15 vendor stalls on Tuesday, said Randy Gustafson, a spokesman for the Ramsey County Sheriff's Office. No one was arrested.

Gustafson said investigators will examine the evidence they collected and work with prosecutors to determine charges.

"We got to the point where we needed to have a law enforcement response because you can't do that in the United States, that isn't how medicines are dispensed," Gustafson said. "And because that wasn't being listened to and people were getting hurt. There were poisonings that were tracked back to purchases made there."

The Ramsey County Sheriff's Office says it has reports of people who were injured or died as a result of the items being available.

Sia Her, executive director of the Council on Asian Pacific Minnesotans, said many Hmong immigrants see the market as a more accessible place to get medicine than a doctor's office.

"They go because they're comfortable with the people who are selling them. They think that they know what they're purchasing. And they think that they know the consequences of taking these medicines," Her said.

No one was arrested during Tuesday's search.

Ramsey sheriff's spokesman Gustafson said there's no indication the market's owners knew about the activity.

MPR News could not immediately reach the marketplace owner or administrators.

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