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Press Release

Twenty-One Individuals Charged With Using Fraudulent Prescriptions to Obtain Oxycodone

For Immediate Release
U.S. Attorney's Office, District of New Mexico

ALBUQUERQUE – Twenty-one individuals have been charged with using fraudulent prescriptions to unlawfully obtain Oxycodone, announced by U.S. Attorney Kenneth J. Gonzales, Second Judicial District Attorney Kari E. Brandenburg, Special Agent in Charge Joseph M. Arabit of the DEA’s El Paso Field Division, and Executive Director Larry Loring, R.Ph., of the New Mexico Board of Pharmacy.

Twenty of the 21 defendants were arrested this morning during a multi-agency law enforcement operation spear-headed by the DEA. An additional defendant has been summoned to appear in federal court. Fourteen of the 21 are facing federal charges and the remaining seven are facing state charges. The federal defendants are charged in indictments filed under seal on February 6, 2013, and unsealed earlier today. The state defendants are charged in criminal complaints.

The charges are the result of “Operation Paper Trail,” an investigation initiated in March 2011 by the DEA’s Tactical Diversion Squad in Albuquerque and the New Mexico Board of Pharmacy in response to the epidemic increase in prescription drug abuse, addiction and overdose deaths in New Mexico, particularly among teens and young adults. Operation “Paper Trail” targeted individuals using false and fraudulent prescriptions to obtain large quantities of Oxycodone in Bernalillo County. Oxycodone is opioid narcotic pain reliever similar to morphine that is medically prescribed to treat moderate to severe pain and can be habit-forming.

The abuse of prescription drugs, such as Oxycodone, is a serious problem in our communities. One way that these drugs are obtained illegally is through fraudulent prescriptions, which leads all too often to addiction, shattered lives, and even death,” said DEA Special Agent in Charge, Joseph M. Arabit. “In the interest of public safety, especially that of our young people, DEA and our law enforcement partners will continue to target those who illegally divert these pharmaceuticals.”

Second Judicial District Attorney Kari E. Brandenburg noted that, “Over the course of the past three years our office has accepted nearly 1,100 cases involving various prescription drugs, including Oxycontin, Oxycodone, Morphine, Xanax and others. It is clear that prescription drugs have become a danger to those abusing and illegally distributing them in our community. The problem has become so tremendous, our state ranks as one of the worst in the country for prescription drug overdoses. We are extremely grateful for the work done in this lengthy law enforcement investigation, which has resulted in multiple arrests. We hope this helps prevent future abuse and prescription drug overdoses in our community.”

“The New Mexico Board of Pharmacy recognizes the tragic effects of abuse, dependence and overdose when prescription drugs are diverted from pharmacies for sale on the streets of New Mexico communities,” said Executive Director Larry Loring, R.Ph., of the New Mexico Board of Pharmacy. “Board agents work daily to identify and apprehend those individuals who seek to acquire dangerous narcotic drugs with forged prescriptions. The New Mexico Board of Pharmacy will continue to work closely with local, state, and federal law enforcement to stop prescription forgery of these dangerous narcotic drugs.”

Those arrested today on federal charges include Sandy Candelaria, 50, an Albuquerque resident, who is employed as a secretary by the New Mexico Human Resources Department, and Christina Romero, 32, also of Albuquerque, who is employed as a special education assistant at an APS middle school. Twelve of the 13 federal defendants arrested today will make their initial appearances in federal court in Albuquerque at 9:30 a.m. tomorrow morning. Dolores Gallegos, 30, of Albuquerque, made her initial appearance this afternoon, and Eddie Gallegos, Sr., 60, also of Albuquerque, has been summoned to appear in federal court on Feb. 21, 2013. Each of the 14 federal defendants faces a maximum penalty of four years in prison, three years of supervised release, and a $250,000 fine, if convicted.

Those arrested on state charges include Pamela Zubia, 32, of Albuquerque, who is employed by Abarim Home Healthcare. The state defendants are expected to appear in court tomorrow. Each of the seven state defendants faces a maximum penalty of eighteen months of imprisonment if convicted.

Charges in indictments and criminal complaints are only accusations. All criminal defendants are presumed innocent unless proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.

The federal cases are being prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorneys Shammara H. Henderson, Charles L. Barth, C. Paige Messec, William Pflugrath, Jon K. Stanford, David M. Walsh and Lynn W.Y. Wang, and Special Assistant U.S. Attorneys Adam Rowley and Raquel Ruiz-Velez. The state cases will be prosecuted by Assistant District Attorneys of the Second Judicial District Attorney’s Office. The U.S. Marshals Service and Albuquerque Police Department participated in today’s enforcement operation.

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.

Updated January 26, 2015