Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Lehigh Valley pharmacist sentenced to prison, $2.5M forfeiture

Lehigh Valley pharmacist sentenced to prison, $2.5M forfeitureLena Lasher (Courtesy photo | For lehighvalleylive.com) 


A pharmacist who worked in Hellertown and Palmer Township was sentenced to prison Wednesday for misbranding and fraud offenses, stemming from an Internet pharmacy scheme..

RELATED: High Bridge woman accused in international prescription drug scheme going to trial

A licensed pharmacist, Lasher was pharmacist-in-charge at Hellertown Pharmacy, one of three pharmacies owned by fellow New Jersey resident Peter Riccio that were involved in the multimillion-dollar, international painkiller scheme.

Lasher, who also supervised Palmer Pharmacy & Much More, dispensed and caused others to dispense hundreds of thousands of pain pills without valid prescriptions, the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration and U.S. Attorney's Office for the Southern District of New York said.
More than $13 million worth of drugs were sold through the scheme between 2008 and late November 2012, when charges were announced, federal investigators said.
"Lena Lasher abused her position as a licensed pharmacist by dispensing prescription drugs to customers without valid prescriptions and customers who had never consulted with a physician," Manhattan U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara said in a statement.
"Prescription drugs, especially the pain medications that Lasher dispensed, can be addictive and dangerous, and this office is committed to prosecuting those who illegally dispense prescription drugs."
According to the indictments against Lasher, public filings and evidence presented at trial:
Lasher directed employees at the two pharmacies she supervised to ship pills in vials with false or misleading labels. At her 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 repackage for sale pills that had been returned by customers or delivery services, without informing the new customers they were receiving pills previously 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 a Pennsylvania investigator.
She 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.

The charges on which Lasher was convicted are one count each of conspiracy to introduce misbranding prescription drugs into interstate commerce and to misbrand prescription drugs while held for sale, with intent to defraud or mislead; introducing misbranding prescription drugs into interstate commerce, with intent to defraud or mislead; conspiracy to commit mail fraud and wire fraud; mail fraud; and wire fraud.
Riccio of Warren Township, Somerset County, along with seven other defendants under indictment, pleaded guilty. Following his plea in October 2013, he was sentenced to two counts of distribution of a controlled substance over the Internet. He was sentenced in June 2014 to two years of probation and ordered to forfeit nearly $400,000 in exchange for the release of his and his children's assets from federal control.
Kurt Bresswein may be reached at kbresswein@lehighvalleylive.com. Follow 

Kurt Bresswein | For lehighvalleylive.comBy Kurt Bresswein | For lehighvalleylive.com 
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on September 03, 2015 at 7:17 PM, updated September 03, 2015 at 8:13 PM

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