Pharmacist Found Guilty In Manhattan Federal Court Of Misbranding And Fraud Offenses Arising From Internet Pharmacy Scheme
Preet Bharara, United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York, announced today that LENA LASHER, a licensed pharmacist, was found guilty in federal court of misbranding and fraud offenses arising from an Internet pharmacy scheme. LASHER was convicted on Friday, May 15, in Manhattan federal court after a two-week trial before U.S. District Judge Naomi Reice Buchwald.
According to the Indictment, and Superseding Indictment, public filings, and evidence presented at trial:
From 2008 through late November 2012, LASHER, along with others, engaged in a scheme to dispense prescription drugs, including addictive pain medications, to customers who ordered them online, without meeting or consulting with a physician. Over the course of the scheme, LASHER, a licensed pharmacist who was the Pharmacist-In-Charge at Hellertown Pharmacy in Hellertown, Pennsylvania, and who supervised a second pharmacy, Palmer Pharmacy & Much More in Easton, Pennsylvania, dispensed and caused others to dispense hundreds of thousands of pain pills without valid prescriptions.
LASHER also directed employees at the two pharmacies she supervised to ship pills in vials with false or misleading labels. At LASHER’s direction, instructions on the labels for how often a customer should take certain drugs were often altered, and the descriptions on the labels regarding the quantity of pills in the pill vial were often inaccurate. She also directed employees to take pills that had been returned by customers or delivery services, remove the labels, and then to re-dispense the pills to other customers with new labels, without informing those new customers that they were receiving pills that had previously been dispensed to others. LASHER also instructed her employees to store pills without required information, such as a lot number or expiration date.
As part of her effort to conceal the nature of the Internet pharmacy business at both pharmacies, LASHER made false representations to multiple state boards of pharmacy and to an investigator with the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. LASHER also instructed her employees to use code when talking about the Internet pharmacy scheme, telling them to refer to prescription drugs dispensed pursuant to prescriptions obtained over the Internet as “nursing home meds” and not to use the word “Internet” in describing the pharmacies’ business to walk-in customers or the United States Post Office.
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LASHER, 47, of High Bridge, New Jersey, was convicted of one count of conspiracy to introduce misbranded prescription drugs into interstate commerce and to misbrand prescription drugs while held for sale, with intent to defraud or mislead, which carries a maximum sentence of five years; one count of introducing misbranded prescription drugs into interstate commerce, with intent to defraud or mislead, which carries a maximum sentence of three years; one count of conspiracy to commit mail fraud and wire fraud, which carries a maximum sentence of 20 years; one count of mail fraud, which carries a maximum sentence of 20 years; and one count of wire fraud, which carries a maximum sentence of 20 years. LASHER was acquitted of one count of witness tampering. The maximum potential sentence in this case is prescribed by Congress and is provided here for informational purposes only, as the sentencing of the defendant will be determined by the judge.
LASHER, who is scheduled to be sentenced on September 2, 2015 at 2 p.m., was arrested on November 29, 2012, along with Peter J. Riccio, the owner of Hellertown Pharmacy and Palmer Pharmacy & Much More, multiple physicians, and others involved in the Internet pharmacy scheme. Other than defendant Gergana Chervenkova, who remains at large abroad, and who is presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty, all defendants in the case have been convicted.
United States Attorney Bharara praised the investigative work of the Drug Enforcement Administration, the Food and Drug Administration, Office of Criminal Investigations, and the United States Postal Inspection Service, and expressed his appreciation for the assistance of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, Department of State, and the New Jersey Department of Law & Public Safety, Division of Law, Professional Boards Prosecution Section.
The case is being handled by the Office’s Narcotics Unit. Assistant U.S. Attorneys Daniel C. Richenthal and Kristy J. Greenberg are in charge of the prosecution.