Why did it take police so long to catch a black market pharmacy in the act, given its prominent location? It looks like there's a cultural gap in this equation.
If Carlos Araujo was doing what police say he was doing, he was doing it in plain sight.
Araujo's tiny Globo Express store on Hollis Street in downtown Framingham is so narrow that a man of average height could touch the left and right walls with his arms outstretched. It's so tiny that customers would have to inhale to squeeze by each other in front of the soft drink cooler. It's so tiny, there would be no place to hide illegal behavior - unless you're doing business in a place where selling drugs without a license or making fake IDs is considered a customer service, rather than a violation.
Araujo, 51, of Medway, was busted last weekend after police said they discovered him running a veritable "black market pharmacy" from his storefront, dispensing prescription drugs without a license and without asking for prescriptions.
Yesterday afternoon, the sign in the front window of Globo Express still declared the place "Open" but the door was locked and the store still in disarray from the search by Framingham Police last weekend.
Police pretty much stumbled on the alleged illegal prescription drug and ID business when two narcotics officers walking by Saturday night looked inside and saw a man buying an item from a cooler behind the counter. When they confronted him outside, he told them he had just bought amoxicillin, a common antibiotic, that requires a prescription from a doctor. Police say Araujo isn't a licensed pharmacist and the drug sales were illegal.
Globo Express isn't hidden away on a side street or tucked in among nondescript, unmarked storefronts. Its bright green and yellow sign - GLOBO EXPRESS 875-7600 - spans the width of the storefront. The shop is on a busy stretch of Hollis Street, sandwiched in among hair salons and Brazilian churches and kittycorner from a popular Brazilian bakery.
There's not much to the store. On the back wall of the shop is a large sign: Photo ID Here, with a large ID card in the middle. Police said when they searched the business they found dozens of fake Massachusetts ID cards bearing a state seal, along with records for 172 applications for ID cards.
In the front of Globo Express is a glass display case with a few boxes of Colgate toothpaste, two bars of Irish Spring, some playing cards and sundry over-the-counter medicines.
Police say their search of the cooler yielded a much larger selection of prescription medications with names in Portuguese, including Bactrim, Amoxicilina, pseudophederine and varieties of birth control pills.
The search also turned up hundreds of packs of cigarettes, which didn't carry a state tax stamp, and more than $50,000 in cash, apparent income upon which police say Araujo admitted he hadn't paid taxes.
The story about Araujo's arrest, and our coverage the next day in which several members of the Brazilian community lamented the loss of a ready supply of prescription drugs, set the online community afire.
How can this guy run an illegal business and not pay taxes? someone asked.
Of course it's easy to amass tens of thousands in cash if you're not reporting it to the government, another responded.
Why hadn't someone turned this guy in?
Why did it take police so long to catch this operation in the act, given its prominent location?
It looks like there's a cultural gap in this equation.
In this country, if you go by the book, you run a business, pay your taxes, sell things that you can legally sell and work hard to get a license if that's what you need to sell other things, such as prescription drugs, legally. If you sell cigarettes, you buy legal ones at wholesale - packs with the proper state stamp on them - then you mark them up and compete with everyone else selling the same product, at pretty much the same markup. If you play by the book you don't sell fake IDs, whose only purpose is to help the buyer break the law.
But there appeared to be a ready customer base for another type of business downtown, one which went by a different set of rules.
This business would be one which might secretly import things from Brazil, then illegally sell them to waiting customers who appreciated how uncomplicated and reasonable the transaction was. In this scenario there are no long waits at a doctor's office for an expensive exam and a prescription - especially if the patient doesn't have insurance coverage. No embarrassing discussions with a pharmacist who might not speak the same language, might charge a lot of money and might give the customer a hard time, for whatever reason.
This business might operate in plain sight because there is a demand and a steady supply of satisfied customers, and therein lies the problem.
Richard Lodge is editor of the MetroWest (Mass.) Daily News and writes a column published on Friday. His e-mail is email@example.com.