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Archive for Friday, May 2, 2008

Internet pharmacy owner gets 33-month sentence

May 2, 2008

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— The owner of an Internet pharmacy once located here was sentenced Thursday to 33 months in prison for unlawfully distributing prescription drugs.

Wilbur D. Hilst, 76, a retired physician in Wewoka, Okla., pleaded guilty last year to conspiracy to unlawfully distribute prescription drugs through the Red Mesa Pharmacy.

U.S. District Judge Wesley Brown imposed the prison term to be followed by a year of supervised release. As part of a plea deal, Hilst also forfeited $20,129 from a bank account.

The prison sentence is at the low end of sentencing guidelines, which called for a sentence of between 33 and 36 months. Under the plea deal, Hilst waived the right to appeal a sentence within the sentencing guideline range.

Brown was not persuaded by the defense's argument that Hilst be given probation because of his age and deteriorating health.

Defense attorney David Moses told the judge in court papers that "any sentence of imprisonment is likely a death sentence for the defendant."

Four people were initially indicted in the Red Mesa case. The government dismissed charges against Hilst's 77-year-old wife, Margaret Anne. Two pharmacy workers convicted by a jury in February are awaiting sentencing.

Jerry L. Lovern, 68, and Robert J. Barron, 37, both of Wichita, were convicted by a jury in February on three counts, including conspiracy and unlawfully distributing controlled substances.

At their trial, Assistant U.S. Attorney Mona Furst told jurors that the two pharmacy employees' crimes were no different from those of street drug dealers. She said that Lovern, a pharmacist, and Barron, a computer technician, continued their conspiracy even after a March 2006 search warrant was executed on Red Mesa Pharmacy.

But defense attorneys for the two men argued that their clients were simply following orders from their employer, a Kansas pharmacy licensed by both the Drug Enforcement Administration and the Kansas Board of Pharmacy.

Prosecutors allege that Red Mesa Pharmacy distributed 9,256 orders between Dec. 5, 2005, and March 22, 2006, for prescriptions approved by doctors who did not physically examine the buyers or have any communication with them.

All contact was on the Internet through online businesses and their Web sites, Integra Rx and SafeTrustProcessing, prosecutors said. The Web sites had contracted with some doctors to approve online orders based upon buyers' answers to questions, but without actually seeing patients or examining them.

The prescription drugs specifically cited in the charges included Ambien, a controlled drug used for insomnia; and phentermine, a stimulant that is sometimes contained in prescription drugs used for weight loss.

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