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Alleged multi-million dollar internet drug scheme in Hellertown busted by feds

By Jamie Peter, WFMZ.com Reporter, JPeter@wfmz.com
Jaccii Farris, Reporter, JFarris@wfmz.com
Published On: Nov 29 2012 12:18:16 PM CST
Updated On: Nov 30 2012 12:02:34 PM CST

Internet drug bust

HELLERTOWN, Pa. -

The feds say they've busted an Internet-based scheme to illegally sell prescription painkillers.  A scheme, they say, enriched two Lehigh Valley pharmacists to the tune of $13 million.   

Thursday morning, FBI, DEA, and IRS agents swarmed the Hellertown Pharmacy on Main Street in Hellertown, Northampton County.  They were seen taking boxes and what appeared to be computer hard drives from the store.

Two pharmacists from the Hellertown Pharmacy, Peter Riccio and Lena Lasher, three physicians, and five website operators are facing charges for a scheme that put millions of dollars worth of prescription drugs into the hands of people without valid prescriptions, Preet Bharara, the United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York said.

From 2010 until November 2012 customers could log onto websites operated by the five charged in this scheme and order drugs like Fioricet, Soma and Ultram, authorities said.  Fioricet, Soma and Ultram are all forms of painkillers. 

The website customers were required to complete an online medical questionnaire in which they were asked a series of questions regarding their medical history, officials said.  The website said they'd need to consult with one of the website's U.S. licensed physicians but those consultations never happened.

The questionnaire the customer was required to fill out often already contained the correct answers for the questions required to receive their prescription, Bharara said.

Following the customer’s order and completion of the medical questionnaire, the website operators would transmit the questionnaire to one of the three doctors who would issue a prescription without conducting an in-person exam or reviewing medical records.

The prescription was sent to a pharmacy, including the Hellertown Pharmacy where it would then be filled and mailed to the customer.

The doctors were paid for the prescriptions they issued and and the pharmacists, Riccio and Lasher of Hellertown Pharmacy, were paid for filling them.

During the nearly two year operations, bank accounts controlled by Riccio and Lasher received more than $13,000,000 from the website operators.  Accounts controlled by the doctors received hundreds of thousands of dollars from Website Operators, including from bank accounts located in Cyprus, Hong Kong, and Israel.

“As alleged, this multi-million dollar Internet pharmacy pill scheme involved pharmacists and doctors who placed cash over care by partnering with corrupt website operators to peddle massive quantities of addictive pain pills without valid prescriptions," he said.  "We will not tolerate the violation of laws and regulations governing the pharmaceutical industry, and today’s arrests underscore our ongoing commitment to pursuing those who illegally put profit over public health and safety."

The ten accused in the case were spread across the New York, New Jersey and Pennsylvania as well as South Carolina, California and even Bulgaria.

Nine of the defendants were arrested and charged Thursday.  Gergana Chervenkova, of Bulgaria remains at large, Preet said.