Former Employees of Dental Practice in Valencia County Charged with Trafficking in Prescription Painkillers
Case Prosecuted as Part of HOPE Initiative which Seeks to Reduce the Number of Opioid-Related Deaths in New Mexico
ALBUQUERQUE – Pamela Suniga, 52, of Veguita, N.M., and Barbara Hussey, 40, of Belen, N.M., made their initial appearances today in federal court in Albuquerque, N.M., on an indictment charging them with violating the federal narcotics laws. Suniga and Hussey remain in custody pending arraignment and detention hearings, which are scheduled for July 13, 2016.
Suniga and Hussey were arrested yesterday based on an 11-count indictment charging the two women with conspiracy to distribute Hydrocodone, a prescription opioid painkiller, between May 2015 and Oct. 2015. The indictment also charges Suniga with distributing Hydrocodone on five occasions between May 2012 and Dec. 2014, and Suniga and Hussey with unlawfully acquiring Hydrocodone by forging prescriptions in the name of a dentist and presenting the prescriptions at a pharmacy in Belen in Aug. 2015.
The indictment charges Suniga alone with making a materially false statement in Oct. 2015, by forging the name of a dentist on a prescription for Hydrocodone and presenting the forged prescription at a pharmacy in Belen, and with aggravated identity theft. Finally, Suniga is charged with embezzling $17,219.55 in health care benefits between Dec. 2014 and Oct. 2015. The indictment also includes forfeiture provisions, which seek forfeiture of the monies Suniga allegedly embezzled.
According to the indictment, Suniga and Hussey committed the 11 offenses charged in the indictment in Valencia County, N.M. At the time they allegedly committed the crimes charged in the indictment, Suniga and Hussey were employed by a dental practice in Valencia County.
If convicted on the conspiracy charge, Suniga and Hussey each face a statutory maximum penalty of 20 years in prison. If convicted on the distribution of Hydrocodone charges, Suniga faces a statutory maximum penalty of 20 years in prison. If convicted of acquiring Hydrocodone using forged prescriptions, Suniga and Hussey each face a statutory maximum penalty of four years in prison. In addition, Suniga faces a statutory penalty of five years in prison on the false statements charge and ten years on the embezzlement charge. Suniga also faces a statutory mandatory two-year prison sentence on the aggregated identify theft charge that must be served consecutive to any sentence imposed on the other charges.
Charges in indictments are merely accusations and defendants are presumed innocent unless found guilty in a court of law.
This case was investigated by the Albuquerque office of the DEA and the New Mexico Board of Pharmacy. Assistant U.S. Attorney Kristopher N. Houghton is 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.