FOUR PHARMACY TECHNICIANS CHARGED WITH STEALING AND SELLING PRESCRIPTION DRUGSU.S. Attorney announces “Operation Pharm Team” to combat illicit sale of prescription drugs
David B. Fein, United States Attorney for the District of Connecticut, announced that four former pharmacy technicians were arrested today on federal charges stemming from their alleged theft of prescription drugs from retail pharmacies where they worked, and the subsequent sale and distribution of the drugs. These arrests are a result of “Operation Pharm Team,” a joint law-enforcement and regulatory agency initiative that focuses on the illegal distribution of prescription drugs.
The following four individuals were arrested earlier today on separate criminal complaints charging each with possessing with intent to distribute various controlled substances, and with obtaining controlled substances by misrepresentation, fraud, deception, or subterfuge:
MICHAEL HANNON, 28, of North Haven, formerly a pharmacy technician at a CVS Pharmacy in North Haven. HANNON is alleged to have stolen and sold Schedule III prescription drugs, including hydrocodone/acetaminophen (sometimes sold under the brand name Vicodin) and Suboxone, and Schedule IV prescription drugs, including diazepam (sometimes sold under the brand name Valium), and alprazolam (sometimes sold under the brand name Xanax).
DOROTHY GRIER, 24, of East Hartford, formerly a pharmacy technician at a CVS Pharmacy in East Hartford. GRIER is alleged to have stolen and sold Schedule III prescription drugs, including hydrocodone/acetaminophen and Suboxone, and Schedule IV prescription drugs, including clonazepam (sometimes sold under the brand name Klonopin).
KEVIN WINZER, 20, of Old Saybrook, formerly a pharmacy technician at a CVS Pharmacy in Old Saybrook. WINZER is alleged to have stolen and sold Schedule III prescription drugs, including hydrocodone/acetaminophen, and Schedule IV prescription drugs, including diazepam and alprazolam.
RAMON GRULLON, 25, of Plymouth, formerly a pharmacy technician at a CVS Pharmacy in Litchfield. GRULLON is alleged to have stolen and sold Schedule III prescription drugs, including hydrocodone/acetaminophen, and Schedule IV prescription drugs, including diazepam and alprazolam.
“The illegal distribution of prescription drugs is a significant problem, and there are signs it is growing increasingly worse,” said U.S. Attorney Fein. “These drugs are particularly dangerous, because their abuse is frequently a gateway to abuse of other opiates, including heroin. This serious problem requires a cooperative approach bringing federal, state, and local law enforcement and regulators to the table. The arrests today are an example of these agencies working together, and we look forward to more such efforts in the future. Those involved in the illegal distribution of prescription drugs should know that they will be investigated and prosecuted like other drug dealers.”
In October 2010, the U.S. Attorney’s Office and members of federal, state, and local law enforcement and regulatory agencies initiated Operation Pharm Team to combat the misuse of prescription drugs. Members of Operation Pharm Team include the Drug Enforcement Administration, the Offices of the Inspectors General of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and the Department of Veterans Affairs, the Food and Drug Administration, the United States Postal Inspection Service, the Drug Control Division of the Connecticut Office of Consumer Protection, the Medicaid Fraud Control Unit of the Chief State’s Attorney’s Office, the Connecticut Attorney General’s Office, and members of local police departments.
“Prescription drug diversion and abuse is a significant problem in Connecticut and throughout New England,” said Steven W. Derr, Special Agent in Charge of the Drug Enforcement Administration, New England Field Division. “As this investigation demonstrates, DEA and its law enforcement partners do not differentiate between drug traffickers, whether they are on the street corner or behind the counter at your local pharmacy, we go where the investigation takes us.”
“Every year, the illegal distribution of prescription drugs paid for by the Medicare and Medicaid programs costs taxpayers millions of dollars and deprives deserving beneficiaries of the care they need,” said Susan J. Waddell, Special Agent in Charge of the Office of Inspector General for U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. “This office will continue to work aggressively with our law enforcement partners to eliminate prescription drug fraud in our health care programs.”
“As one of the largest purchasers of pharmaceuticals in the federal government, the Department of Veterans Affairs is committed to the care and safety of our nation’s veterans,” said Jeffrey G. Hughes, Special Agent in Charge, U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, Office of Inspector General, Northeast Field Office. “In our effort to identify and deter fraud, waste, and abuse, the Department of Veterans Affairs, Office of Inspector General is tasked with ensuring that these pharmaceuticals are not used or obtained in a fraudulent manner. We are pleased to be part of and are committed to participating in this very important initiative.”
“The Connecticut Drug Control Division takes seriously its responsibility for helping to stop drug diversion and misuse of prescription medicines within the State,” said Commissioner William M. Rubenstein of Connecticut’s Department of Consumer Protection. “We welcome opportunities to partner with other drug enforcement agencies and provide the tools needed, such as the Connecticut Prescription Monitoring Program. The Drug Control Division will continue to support Operation Pharm Team in every manner possible.”
“This initiative represents another example of how we can maximize our enforcement efforts through collaborative efforts involving all levels of government, which allow law enforcement to get the most from the very limited resources available in these difficult economic times,” said Chief State’s Attorney Kevin T. Kane.
“My office is pleased to coordinate with federal and state law enforcement and regulatory agencies in this important initiative,” said Connecticut Attorney General George Jepsen. “Prescription drugs are heavily regulated for important health and safety reasons. Fraud and abuse associated with prescription drugs takes many forms. It is important for law enforcement and regulatory agencies to work together to combat misuse.”
In acknowledging the cooperation that CVS has provided to law enforcement during the investigation of this matter, U.S. Attorney Fein said “All health care providers and pharmacists must remain vigilant for signs of illegal acts involving prescription drugs and promptly notify law enforcement of such activity.”
In recent months, more than 40 individuals have been charged with various federal offenses as part of the U.S. Attorney’s Office’s expanded effort in combating the illegal trafficking of prescription drugs. In September 2011, as a result of Operation Blue Coast, 18 individuals, including three Transportation Security Administration officers and two law enforcement officers, were charged for their alleged involvement in a conspiracy to distribute oxycodone, a potent and highly-addictive prescription narcotic. In April 2011, 13 individuals were arrested as part of Operation Big Blue, a long-term wiretap investigation into a New Haven-area prescription narcotics trafficking ring.
On August 30, 2011, a grand jury in Hartford returned an indictment charging William Fabrizio, 27, of Milford, Jonathan Cosgrove, 26, of Wallingford and Raymond Zona, 39, of Wallingford, each with one count of conspiracy to possess with the intent to distribute oxycodone. It is alleged that Fabrizio, while employed as a pharmacy technician at a Walgreens in North Haven, conspired with Cosgrove and Zona to fill 18 fraudulent prescriptions for oxycodone. This matter is being investigated by the Drug Enforcement Administration and the North Haven, Wallingford and Milford Police Departments.
U.S. Attorney Fein has assigned an Investigator from his office to assist with the coordination of prescription drug cases and to assist law enforcement agencies in preparing cases for prosecution.
Each of the four individuals arrested today faces a maximum term of imprisonment of 10 years and a fine of up to $500,000 if convicted of possession with intent to distribute Schedule III prescription drugs, a maximum term of imprisonment of five years and a fine of up to $250,000 if convicted of possession of with intent to distribute Schedule IV prescription drugs, and a maximum term of imprisonment of four years and a fine of up to $250,000 if convicted of illegally obtaining controlled substances. This matter is being prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorney David Sheldon.
U.S. Attorney Fein stressed that a complaint is only a charge and is not evidence of guilt. Charges are only allegations, and each defendant is presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.
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