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GRAND RAPIDS, MICHIGAN – James D. Orr, 76, and Eugene A. Biegert, 69, of Grand Rapids, Michigan, and Thomas N. VerHage, 68, of Kentwood, Michigan were sentenced by U.S. District Judge Janet T. Neff to substantial fines following their guilty pleas to charges of the felony misbranding of drugs while working as staff pharmacists at Kentwood Pharmacy. The judge imposed monetary penalties exceeding the fine range recommended by federal sentencing guidelines: a fine of $30,000.00 for VerHage and Orr and $15,000.00 for Biegert.
In addition, as a consequence of the convictions, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services will exclude the defendants from participation in any Federal Health Care Program (Medicaid and Medicare) and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration will debar them from working for anyone with an approved or pending drug product application.
During their earlier plea hearings, the pharmacists acknowledged that they were aware that Kentwood Pharmacy restocked drugs that were returned from nursing homes and adult foster care homes. The defendants admitted that receiving such returned drugs and placing the returned drugs back on the stock shelves resulted in the drugs being placed into stock bottles and other containers which did not maintain the accurate lot numbers and expiration dates for the drugs. The defendants admitted that, in their position as staff pharmacists, they approved prescriptions that were prepared and dispensed to foster care and nursing homes. They acknowledged that some of the prescriptions contained drugs that they knew were returned to stock in violation of state and federal laws, including drugs that had been misbranded.
At the sentencing hearings, Judge Neff found that the staff pharmacists created a substantial risk of harm by approving the illegal restocking and re-distribution of prescription drugs. The judge described the scheme to collect unused drugs from nursing homes and adult foster homes and then re-dispense these drugs as “clever, illegal, and potentially lethal.” She explained that the substantial fines were necessary to deter others and to punish these defendants for their failure to exercise their professional responsibilities as pharmacists and stop or report the illegal practices at Kentwood Pharmacy. Judge Neff further explained that none of the defendants had any prior criminal history, did not financially benefit from the criminal activities and that federal sentencing guidelines did not call for substantial prison time as a deterrent.
U.S. Attorney Patrick Miles said, “The public must be able to rely on pharmacists who have both professional and statutory duties to ensure that pharmacies operate in compliance with federal and state laws regulating the handling, packaging, and distribution of drugs. As this case demonstrates, even semi-retired pharmacists who work part-time are expected to fulfill their statutory and professional obligations. If such professionals fail to comply with state and federal laws, they should expect to be prosecuted and face loss of their license, substantial financial penalties, and the possibility of imprisonment for violations of the public’s trust.”
“Patients must have confidence that the prescription drugs they receive from pharmacies are safe and effective,” said Special Agent in Charge John J. Redmond of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, Office of Criminal Investigations, Chicago Field Office. “The FDA will aggressively pursue those who cause drugs to become misbranded while held for sale, and the agency will strive to ensure that they are prosecuted to the full extent of the law.”
The investigation of this matter involves the FDA, FBI, DEA, HSS and IRS. Assistant U.S. Attorney Ray Beckering is the prosecutor.
The investigation of this case was initiated by confidential tips. If Michigan residents or medical professionals suspect possible violations of law or other dangerous practices involving pharmacies or prescription drugs, they can contact the FDA at http://www.fda.gov/ICECI/criminalInvestigations/default.htm or the DEA at http://www.justice.gov/dea/index.html.