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Press Release

Veterans Affairs Employees Charged with Stealing and Selling Prescription Drugs

For Immediate Release
U.S. Attorney's Office, Eastern District of Arkansas

LITTLE ROCK—Christopher R. Thyer, United States Attorney for the Eastern District of Arkansas, James W. Werner, Special Agent in Charge of the South Central Field Office of the Department of Veterans Affairs Office of the Inspector General (VAOIG), and Matthew R. Barden, Assistant Special Agent in Charge of the Little Rock District Office of the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), announced today the unsealing a federal indictment charging three Veterans Affairs (VA) employees with conspiring to steal prescription medications, including opioids, from the VA John L. McClellan Memorial Veterans Hospital in Little Rock, and conspiring to distribute those drugs.

The superseding indictment, returned by a federal grand jury on Wednesday, charges Satishkumar "Steve" Patel, 44, of North Little Rock, Alisha Pagan, 33, of Mabelvale, and Nikita Neal, 42, of Little Rock with eight counts stemming from a scheme to order oxycodone, hydrocodone, Viagra, Cialis, and promethazine syrup with codeine and divert them from the VA for street distribution.

"This case is an example of government employees using their position of trust to not only steal from the taxpayers of Arkansas, but also to poison the communities we live in with dangerous drugs," Thyer said. "Curbing the illegal distribution of opioids continues to be a primary focus for my office, and it is particularly troubling when the crime is being committed by people in the health-care industry."

This investigation began in June 2016, when VAOIG received a report that large amounts of unaccounted for prescription medications were charged to VA accounts. The VAOIG’s investigation revealed that Patel, a pharmacy technician, used his VA access to a medical supplier’s web portal to order and divert 4,000 oxycodone pills, 3,300 hydrocodone pills, 308 ounces of promethazine with codeine syrup, and more than 14,000 Viagra and Cialis pills, at a cost to the VA of approximately $77,700 dollars, with a street value of more than $160,000. It is alleged that Patel falsified payment invoices to avoid detection.

"This indictment illustrates that the Department of Veterans Affairs Office of Inspector General remains committed to stemming the diversion and abuse of opioids in VA facilities," Werner said.

During the course of the investigation, which included controlled deliveries of oxycodone at the direction of law enforcement, VAOIG and DEA determined that Patel was distributing the medications to pharmacy technician Pagan, who in turn distributed a portion of the drugs to Neal, a pharmacy technician student trainee.

"The abuse of prescription drugs, such as oxycodone and hydrocodone, remains a significant problem in our communities. For the health and safety of our citizens, DEA will continue to target the illegal diversion of these pharmaceuticals, which can result in the tearing apart of families and the destruction of individual lives," Barden said. "It is particularly egregious when the perpetrators of such illegal acts are health care professionals responsible for ensuring that potentially dangerous drugs are dispensed properly. We will continue to work with our law enforcement partners, including those at the Department of Veteran Affairs Office of the Inspector General, to ensure that if a health care provider illegally diverts pharmaceuticals, they will be held accountable for the harm they cause."

All three defendants are charged in a conspiracy to steal the medication, as well as conspiracies to distribute oxycodone and hydrocodone. Patel is also charged in four counts of possession with intent to deliver oxycodone, and Pagan is charged with one count of possession with intent to deliver oxycodone.

Conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute oxycodone and hydrocodone, and possession with intent to distribute oxycodone and hydrocodone is punishable by not more than 20 years’ incarceration in the Bureau of Prisons, with a possible fine of up to $1,000,000, and not less than 3 years supervised release. Conspiracy to steal government property is punishable by not more than five years’ incarceration in the Bureau of Prisons, with a possible fine of up to $250,000, and not more than three years supervised release.

The case against Patel, Pagan, and Neal was investigated by the VAOIG and DEA, and is being prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorney Hunter Bridges.

An indictment contains only allegations. A defendant is presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty.

Updated February 8, 2017

Drug Trafficking