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3/26/2002

Kansas City Pharmacist's Case Leads to Trail of Stolen Drug Products

Donna Young

The case of Robert R. Courtney—the former Kansas City pharmacist who pleaded guilty in February to 20 federal felony charges related to his dilution of chemotherapy drugs—has led investigators to three people who have admitted to dealing in stolen prescription drug products.

Two of those cases involved retired pharmaceutical salesmen. The third case involved a Kansas City pharmacist who, through a plea agreement, surrendered his pharmacy license to state authorities in Kansas and Missouri.

Among the stolen drugs were Bristol-Myers Squibb Co.’s Taxol and Eli Lilly and Co.’s Gemzar, two cancer-fighting drugs that Courtney has confessed to diluting beyond the doses prescribed.

Chris Whitley, spokesman for U.S. Attorney Todd P. Graves, who covers the Western District of Missouri, would not, because of the "continuing criminal investigation," confirm that Courtney had purchased or stocked any of the stolen drug products.

But as part of Courtney's plea agreement, he confessed that he had "conspired to traffic in stolen drugs including Taxol and Gemzar," which he purchased and dispensed to pharmacy customers, according to Graves's office.

The admission of a conspiracy means Courtney did not act alone.

"There are still dots being drawn, and we are continuing to draw new lines to connect the dots—and as the investigation continues, the picture will begin to take shape," Whitley said.

Aram "Uzzie" Paraghamian, 72, a retired Denver pharmaceutical salesman, pleaded guilty last Friday in U.S. District Court in Kansas City to one felony count of interstate transport of stolen property.

Paraghamian has admitted to knowingly receiving prescription drug products that had been stolen from a Denver-area hospital, according to a statement from Graves, who declined to identify the hospital.

The Kansas City Star reported that, after Paraghamian’s hearing last Friday, his attorney, Gerald M. Handley, acknowledged outside the courtroom that his client had delivered some stolen drugs to Courtney. But, according to the news report, Handley claimed his client was unaware that Courtney had been diluting drugs.

Paraghamian could face up to 10 years in prison without parole, plus a fine of up to $250,000. A sentencing hearing has not yet been scheduled.

In January, a 69-year-old retired Kansas City pharmaceutical salesman, Walter J. Accurso, settled a federal civil suit by paying $33,650 after admitting that he knowingly acquired and then sold stolen prescription drug products.

Accurso admitted to selling stolen drugs, including Gemzar and Taxol, at discount prices to Kansas City-area pharmacists, according to the U.S. attorney’s office.

Former pharmacist Gary S. Ravis, 58, of Leawood, Kansas, confessed to knowingly dispensing stolen drugs to customers. Those drugs, according to the U.S. attorney’s office, had been stolen from a Denver hospital.

Ravis is the former owner of Phil’s Prescriptions and Vitamins in Kansas City. Since his plea agreement, Ravis has ceased practicing pharmacy and surrendered his license.

He could receive a punishment of up to 10 years in prison and be fined up to $250,000. The total estimated value of the drugs involved in his case is $30,000–$35,000, according to the U.S. attorney’s office.

Courtney remains in jail without bond, pending sentencing. A sentencing hearing has not yet been scheduled and, "because of the complexity of the case," Whitley said, could be months away.

As part of his plea agreement, Courtney faces between 17 and 30 years in federal prison, without the possibility of parole.

More than 300 civil lawsuits have been filed against Courtney.

A federal court ordered the freezing of Courtney’s assets last fall. On March 1, a U.S. district judge ordered the release of at least $8 million of those assets to the control of U.S. District Judge Ortrie D. Smith, who is responsible for sentencing Courtney and deciding how those assets should be dispersed.