Lauderdale County Roundup Nets 21 People Charged in Prescription Drug Scheme
BIRMINGHAM – Federal and state agents arrested 21 people late last week in Northwest Alabama on charges connected to a scheme to use stolen and altered medical records and drivers’ licenses to obtain prescription drugs from online pharmacies, announced U.S. Attorney Joyce White Vance, Food and Drug Administration, Office of Criminal Investigations, Special Agent in Charge Dave Bourne and Lauderdale County District Attorney Chris Connolly.
Four of those arrested were indicted by a federal grand jury Feb. 2 on mail fraud and identity theft charges. The federal indictment was unsealed last week. Also last week, a state grand jury in Lauderdale County indicted 27 people on charges related to the online prescription drug scheme, including the four facing federal charges.
“The indictment and sweeping arrests of more than 20 people involved in fraud in order to obtain, abuse and financially profit from prescription drugs were accomplished because of the close cooperation and coordination among the federal and state law enforcement agencies,” Vance said. “Prescription drug abuse is a dangerous and widespread problem that the U.S. Attorney’s Office is committed to investigating and prosecuting, and we are grateful for the quality work done here by the Lauderdale County Drug Task Force, the Lauderdale County District Attorney’s Office and the FDA,” she said.
“Today’s announcement demonstrates the continued commitment of FDA's Office of Criminal Investigations and its law enforcement partners to aggressively pursue those who attempt to profit financially by using fraud and deception to illegally acquire prescription drugs,” Bourne said. “We will continue work with our law enforcement counterparts to target those who place the public health at risk for their own financial gain.”
“This has been a long investigation, from our perspective,” Connolly said. “We’re excited about partnering with the federal authorities to try to put a stop to this illegal activity with prescription drugs that, unfortunately, we’re seeing more and more of,” he said.
The 19-count federal indictment filed in U.S. District Court charges ALFRED SHAWN JOHNSON, 40, KRISTI FRALEY, 38, and ROBERT RUSSELL, 44, all of Florence, and MARCUS OAKLEY, 43, of Killen, with conspiracy to commit mail fraud against mail-order pharmacies and have the drugs delivered to them by private and commercial interstate carriers between January 2007 and January 2010. As part of the conspiracy, the defendants used personal identifying information of third parties and stolen and altered medical records and drivers’ licenses to create fraudulent prescription orders, according to the federal indictment.
All 21 defendants arrested in the roundup Thursday and Friday face state charges of conspiracy to commit a controlled-substance crime, attempt to commit a controlled substance crime and possession of a controlled substance. Along with those charges, Johnson and Fraley also face state charges of forgery for the altering of a driver’s license.
The defendants who face only state charges are accused of supporting the online prescription drug scheme either financially, or by providing medical records or identification documents, according to the state indictment.
Johnson, Fraley, Russell and Oakley are scheduled to be arraigned on the federal charges Thursday in Huntsville before U.S. Magistrate Judge Harwell Davis.
Johnson is charged individually in the federal indictment with seven counts of mail fraud and two counts of identity theft in relation to mail fraud; Russell is charged individually with two counts of mail fraud and two counts of identity theft and Oakley is charged individually with three counts of mail fraud and two counts of identity theft.
The federal case is being prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorney Terence O’Rourke.
The FDA’s Office of Criminal Investigations, the Lauderdale County Drug Task Force and the Lauderdale County District Attorney’s Office investigated the case. The task force, the district attorney’s office, the FDA and the Lauderdale County Sheriff’s Department, the U.S. Marshall’s Gulf Coast Regional Fugitive Task Force, and the Florence Police Department participated in the roundup that resulted in the 21 arrests.
Members of the public are reminded that an indictment contains only charges. A defendant is presumed innocent of the charges and it will be the government’s burden to prove a defendant’s guilt beyond a reasonable doubt at trial.
If you believe your organization has expertise or resources that could improve outcomes for ex-offenders re-entering society, please e-mail our Community Outreach Coordinator at Jeremy.Sherer@usdoj.gov
or call 205-244-2019.