Registered Nurse Formerly Employed by Hospice Care Provider Pleads Guilty to Federal Prescription Opioid Conspiracy Charges
Defendants Prosecuted as Part of HOPE Initiative which Seeks to Reduce the Number of Opioid-Related Deaths in New Mexico
ALBUQUERQUE – Desiree Ulibarri, 31, of Albuquerque, N.M., pled guilty today in federal court to federal prescription opioid conspiracy charges under a plea agreement that recommends that she be sentenced to a term of imprisonment not to exceed 57 months followed by a term of supervised release to be determined by the court. At the time Ulibarri committed the crimes to which she pleaded guilty, she was a registered nurse employed by an Albuquerque-area hospice care provider. The guilty plea was announced by Acting U.S. Attorney James D. Tierney and Special Agent in Charge Will R. Glaspy of DEA’s El Paso Division.
In announcing the guilty plea, Acting U.S. Attorney Tierney said, “New Mexicans deserve competent health care from medical professionals whose sole focus is the best interest of their patients, not from drug traffickers who abuse their medical licenses to capitalize on their patients’ healthcare needs. Today’s guilty plea sends a message of deterrence to healthcare providers seeking to abuse their medical licenses for anything other than providing competent and professional medical care to their patients.”
“This investigation has shown the unfortunate reality that anyone – even those in well-paying, professional positions – can become involved in criminal activity,” said DEA Special Agent in Charge Glaspy. “And this guilty plea demonstrates that those who take that step will be held accountable.”
Ulibarri and co-defendant Annabel Debari, 36, also of Albuquerque, were charged in August 2016, in a two-count indictment with conspiracy to distribute oxycodone, and conspiracy to acquire and obtain oxycodone by fraud and deceit. According to the indictment, the two women committed the crimes in Bernalillo County, N.M., between April 2016 and July 2016.
The investigation of this case began on July 21, 2016, after Ulibarri’s employer, a hospice care provider, contacted DEA to report suspicions that Ulibarri was engaged in prescription pill diversion. The employer became suspicious because Ulibarri was documenting patients’ prescriptions in a way that made it difficult to reconcile the medications and because Ulibarri was picking up patients’ prescription pills at Federal Express instead of having the medication delivered to the patients.
On July 22, 2016, DEA agents seized 80 10-mg oxycodone pills from Ulibarri, which she obtained from packages she retrieved from Federal Express. When DEA agents conducted a consensual search of Ulibarri’s cellular phone, they allegedly found evidence that Ulibarri had been conspiring with a co-worker, who is also a registered nurse, to illegally distribute prescription pills since April 2016. Additionally, a review of records of missing packages revealed that at least 3,870 pills, an aggregate of 42,150 mgs of oxycodone, had been diverted during the course of the conspiracy.
During today’s proceedings, Ulibarri pled guilty to the indictment. In her plea agreement, Ulibarri admitted that she was a registered nurse in March 2016, when she was hired by a hospice care provider, and in April 2016, she began to abuse her position to divert prescription medications from their intended recipients. She acknowledged that she recommended oxycodone prescriptions for patients who did not need oxycodone with the intention of selling the pills to others. Ulibarri admitted arranging for a courier service to hold packages of oxycodone intended for patients for pickup instead of delivering the medication to the patients, and picking up the medication herself so she could divert the oxycodone for distribution and her own personal use. Ulibarri also admitted recommending that her employer hire Debari, who was also a registered nurse, so that Debari could assist her in diverting and distributing oxycodone pills in New Mexico.
Debari entered a guilty plea to similar charges on Dec. 9, 2016. In entering her guilty plea, Debari admitted that she personally diverted at least 750 10-milligram oxycodone pills in furtherance of Ulibarri’s diversion scheme. As part of that scheme, on June 7, 2016, Ulibarri called the courier service and pretended to be the intended recipient of the oxycodone pills, and requested that the courier service release the medication to Debari. Debari also admitted that on July 18, 2016, she helped Ulibarri conceal their diversion scheme from their employer by arranging for another person to call their employer and falsely claim to be an employee of the courier service who was reporting that the oxycodone pills had gone missing.
Debari faces a statutory maximum penalty of 20 years in federal prison. Sentencing hearings for Debari and Ulibarri have yet to be scheduled.
This case was investigated by the Tactical Diversion Squad of the DEA in Albuquerque. 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.
Assistant U.S. Attorneys Alexander M. Uballez and Kristopher N. Houghton are prosecuting the case pursuant to 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.