Manhattan U.S. Attorney Charges Yonkers Pharmacy Store Manager With Illegal Distribution Of Oxycodone
Preet Bharara, the United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York, and Brian R. Crowell, the Special Agent in Charge of the New York Field Office of the Drug Enforcement Administration (“DEA”), announced the arrest today of JI YUN LEE for conspiring to distribute oxycodone and for distribution of oxycodone at a pharmacy (the “Pharmacy”) in Yonkers, New York. LEE will be presented later today before U.S. Magistrate Judge Kevin N. Fox.
Manhattan U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara said: “Our society is in the throes of its own ‘opiates war’ and some pharmacies are serving more as pass-through ‘opiate dens’ than as legitimate professional dispensers of dangerous drugs. As alleged, Ji Yun Lee exploited his access to highly addictive pain medication and functioned as a ‘go-to’ prescription pill dispenser for those who were willing to pay his inflated prices. The number of people who die from prescription pill abuse ever year is staggering and bears repeating – almost 16,500 – which is more than illegal street drugs like heroin and cocaine combined. We are bound and determined to thwart those who facilitate the spread of this epidemic and to ensure that they are prosecuted for their crimes.”
Special Agent-in-Charge Brian R. Crowell said: “The perception that illegal prescription drug abuse is a safer high than street drugs, has spread like wildfire through our communities. According to the Drug Abuse Warning Network (DAWN), visits to hospital emergency rooms involving the misuse or abuse of pharmaceutical drugs have doubled over the past five years and there were more visits from pharmaceutical drug overdoses than all other illicit drugs combined. Over 7 million Americans reported using prescription medication for non-medical purposes and the rate is steadily rising each year as opiate abusers find new methods of obtaining diverted medication. As alleged, Ji Yun Lee took advantage of his position to allegedly accept and fill fraudulent prescriptions in exchange for money, just like a street dealer who puts lives at risk throughout our community. The investigations of medical professionals who choose the path to intentionally fuel this deadly threat to our society, just like traditional heroin traffickers, are one of our highest investigative priorities.”
The following allegations are based on the Complaint unsealed today in Manhattan Federal Court:
From 2011 to January 2013, LEE served as the store manager at the Pharmacy in Yonkers, New York, but was not a licensed pharmacist or physician in the State of New York. The investigation revealed that LEE was distributing large amounts of oxycodone by filling prescriptions for several individuals that he knew were fraudulently issued without a legitimate medical purpose. A confidential informant (“CI-1”) told law enforcement that LEE filled multiple fraudulent oxycodone prescriptions for CI-1 each month beginning in early 2011, prior to the time that CI-1 began working with law enforcement. LEE never requested identification prior to filling the fraudulent prescriptions. When CI-1 presented the fraudulent prescriptions, CI-1 would initially provide them to an employee of the Pharmacy, who would in turn provide them to LEE who would then approach CI-1, tell CI-1 when the oxycodone would be ready and what the price would be. LEE typically charged $1,075 for 180 30-milligram oxycodone pills.
When presented with a prescription from CI-1, LEE would enter information from the fraudulent prescription into a computer, return the prescription to CI-1, and provide a time that the oxycodone would be ready. Legitimate pharmacies retain prescriptions at the time they are initially presented for their records and for reporting requirements. According to CI-1, LEE engaged in this unusual practice to avoid a situation whereby other co-conspirators – who sometimes knew when fraudulent prescriptions were brought to the Pharmacy by others, and knew the fake names on those prescriptions – would visit the Pharmacy before the person who had dropped off the prescription and, without that person’s knowledge or permission, pick up the oxycodone.
A second confidential informant (“CI-2”) also knew that fraudulent oxycodone prescriptions were filled at the pharmacy. Together, CI-1 and CI-2, working with law enforcement, presented multiple fraudulent oxycodone prescriptions to LEE from September 2012 to January 2013, which LEE filled and the confidential informants paid for in cash. On at least two occasions, the names on the prescriptions provided to LEE were for people of different genders than those of the confidential informants. CI-1 and CI-2 would provide cash in exchange for the oxycodone, often placing the cash into paper or plastic bags, which were then handed to LEE. A review of the Pharmacy bank records revealed monthly cash deposits between January and September 2012 of over $100,000.
Records from the DEA and New York State’s Bureau of Narcotics Enforcement revealed that:
o The number of oxycodone dosage units purchased by the Pharmacy in 2012 is more than double the number of oxycodone dosage units purchased by any other pharmacy in the same zip code.
o The number of dosage units of oxycodone purchased by the Pharmacy more than doubled from 2010-2011 and then again more than doubled from 2011-2012.
o Many of the oxycodone prescriptions issued by the same practitioner contained sequential serial numbers, and were paid for in cash.
If convicted of the charges in the complaint, LEE faces a maximum penalty of 20 years in prison and a fine of $1 million.
Mr. Bharara praised the efforts of the DEA’s New York City Tactical Diversion Squad, comprised of members from the DEA, New York City Police Department, Westchester County Department of Public Safety, the New York State Insurance Bureau, the Rockland County Drug Task Force and the Internal Revenue Service. Mr. Bharara also thanked the Westchester County District Attorney’s Office, comprised of members of the New York State Police, the Yonkers Police Department, and District Attorney Investigators for their work on the investigation. He noted that the investigation is ongoing.
This case is being handled by the Office’s Narcotics Unit. Assistant U.S. Attorney Elisha Kobre is in charge of the prosecution.
The charges contained in the Complaint are merely accusations, and the defendant is presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty.