Albuquerque Man Pleads Guilty to Robbing Pharmacy to Obtain Prescription Drugs
Defendant Prosecuted Under HOPE Initiative which Seeks to Reduce Opioid-Related Deaths in New Mexico
ALBUQUERQUE – Matthew Romero, 40, of Albuquerque, N.M., pled guilty yesterday in federal court to robbing a retail pharmacy to obtain prescription controlled substances. The guilty plea was announced by U.S. Attorney Damon P. Martinez, Will R. Glaspy, Special Agent in Charge of DEA’s El Paso Division, and Chief Gorden E. Eden of the Albuquerque Police Department.
Romero was arrested on Dec. 30, 2015, on a criminal complaint charging him with violating the Hobbs Act by robbing a business engaged in interstate commerce and robbery involving controlled substances. The charges against Romero arose out of the armed robberies of the Walgreens Pharmacy located at 3501 Lomas Blvd. and the Walgreens Pharmacy located at 5201 Central Ave. in Albuquerque.
Romero was subsequently charged in a four-count indictment on Jan. 14, 2016, with two counts of violating the Hobbs Act and two counts of theft of medical products. The indictment alleges that Romero committed the crimes on Dec. 6, 2015 and Dec. 7, 2015, in Bernalillo County, N.M.
During yesterday’s proceedings, Romero pled guilty to the indictment. In his plea agreement, Romero admitted entering the Walgreens Pharmacy located at 3501 Lomas Blvd. NE, on Dec. 6, 2015, where gave a pharmacy employee a note demanding Xanax and Diazepam, and let the employee know that he was armed. Romero also admitted that on Dec. 7, 2015, he entered the Walgreens Pharmacy located at 5201 Central Ave., where he gave a pharmacy employee a note demanding Xanax, Diazepam, and Oxycodone, and let the employee know that he was armed. The plea agreement states that Dec. 8, 2015, Romero again entered the Walgreens Pharmacy located at 3501 Lomas Blvd. NE, with a note demanding Xanax and Valium, and stating that Romero was armed, but Romero was arrested while he was waiting for the pharmacy to open.
According to the plea agreement, on Dec. 6, 2015, Romero stole 107 doses of 2 milligram Alprazolam and 346 doses of 10 milligram Diazepam, and on Dec. 7, 2015, Romero stole 873 doses of 2 milligram Alprazolam, 471 doses of 10 milligram Diazepam and nine doses of 5 milligram Oxycodone. At the time of his arrest on Dec. 8, 2015, officers recovered several bottles of Alprazolam from his backpack, and did not locate any firearms, ammunition or other weapons.
This case was investigated by the Tactical Diversion Squad of the DEA in Albuquerque and the Albuquerque Police Department. DEA’s Tactical Diversion Squads combine DEA resources with those of federal, state and local law enforcement agencies in an innovative effort to investigate, disrupt and dismantle those suspected of violating the Controlled Substances Act or other appropriate federal, state or local statutes pertaining to the diversion of licit pharmaceutical controlled substances or listed chemicals.
The Controlled Substance Registrant Protection Act was enacted in 1984, to combat the theft of prescription drugs from individuals and businesses registered with the DEA. It created penalties for entering a pharmacy’s premises for the purpose of stealing controlled substances, and includes enhanced punishment for using a dangerous weapon. The Safe Doses Act was enacted in Oct. 2012, to fight medical theft and protect patients from unknowingly using stolen and mishandled drugs. It provides for enhanced sentences for those who rob pharmacies of controlled substances; individuals who steal medical products; and “fences” who knowingly obtain stolen medical products for resale in the supply chain.
Assistant U.S. Attorneys Joel R. Meyers and Shaheen P. Torgoley are prosecuting the case as part of the New Mexico Heroin and Opioid Prevention and Education (HOPE) Initiative. The HOPE Initiative was launched in January 2015 by the UNM Health Sciences Center and the U.S. Attorney’s Office in response to the national opioid epidemic, which has had a disproportionately devastating impact on New Mexico. Opioid addiction has taken a toll on public safety, public health and the economic viability of our communities. Working in partnership with the DEA, the Bernalillo County Opioid Accountability Initiative, Healing Addiction in our Community (HAC), the Albuquerque Public Schools and other community stakeholders, HOPE’s principal goals are to protect our communities from the dangers associated with heroin and opioid painkillers and reducing the number of opioid-related deaths in New Mexico.
The HOPE Initiative is comprised of five components: (1) prevention and education; (2) treatment; (3) law enforcement; (4) reentry; and (5) strategic planning. HOPE’s law enforcement component is led by the Organized Crime Section of the U.S. Attorney’s Office and the DEA in conjunction with their federal, state, local and tribal law enforcement partners. Targeting members of major heroin and opioid trafficking organizations for investigation and prosecution is a priority of the HOPE Initiative. Learn more about the New Mexico HOPE Initiative at http://www.HopeInitiativeNM.org.