Federal Court Shuts Down San Joaquin County Pharmacy and Orders $1 Million in Civil Penalties
SACRAMENTO, Calif. — Nor-Cal Pharmacies Inc., doing business as Lockeford Drug, and pharmacist/owner Lawrence Howen have agreed to pay $1 million in penalties to resolve allegations of violations of the Controlled Substances Act, U.S. Attorney Phillip A. Talbert and Drug Enforcement Administration Special Agent in Charge Brian M. Clark announced.
In the settlement announced today, the defendants agreed to the entry of a permanent injunction against them that permanently bars them from dispensing controlled substances, owning a company that dispenses controlled substances, or employing another person that dispenses controlled substances.
The injunction, signed by U.S. District Judge Ana de Alba today, includes findings that the defendants knew or deliberately ignored that they were dispensing controlled substances pursuant to prescriptions that were not for a legitimate medical purpose. Specifically, the injunction states that the defendants dispensed 116,330 pills, including more than 100,000 oxycodone and hydrocodone pills, based on invalid prescriptions presented by Joe Anthony Bernal, a defendant charged in the Northern District of California in a separate criminal case (4:19-cr-00585). They did so despite circumstances that were highly suggestive that Bernal was not presenting them with legitimate prescriptions. As also stated in the injunction, the defendants took no steps to determine the validity of Bernal’s purported prescriptions and were not concerned if those medications caused patient harm. Bernal is charged with conspiring with several others to illegally acquire and distribute oxycodone and hydrocodone. The charges against Bernal are pending and are only allegations; he is presumed innocent until and unless proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.
“As a pharmacy that fills prescriptions for opioids and other dangerous drugs, the defendants had an obligation to fill only legitimate prescriptions,” U.S. Attorney Talbert said. “The defendants failed to comply with that obligation, and thereby failed in their responsibility to prevent the opioids from being diverted into illicit channels. This case demonstrates our firm commitment to enforcing federal laws involving prescription drugs.”
“The defendants went from pharmaceutical provider to drug dealer when they knowingly provided controlled substances without a legitimate medical purpose,” said DEA Special Agent in Charge Brian M. Clark. “This egregious behavior by a trusted individual and entity not only fuels the fire of the opioid epidemic, but also wreaks havoc on the community they serve. DEA is committed to keeping our communities safe and healthy and will hold registrants accountable by ensuring they are in compliance with the law.”
This case was the product of an investigation by the Drug Enforcement Administration with assistance from the California Board of Pharmacy. Assistant U.S. Attorney Steven S. Tennyson handled the case.