Former Norwich pharmacist charged with selling medication obtained fraudulently

A former Norwich pharmacist has been indicted by a federal grand jury on charges he distributed tens of thousands of opiate painkillers and sedatives that he obtained through forged prescriptions.

Eric Tingley, 42, formerly of Lebanon and currently residing in Las Vegas, was arrested Wednesday as part of a national health care fraud takedown, according to the Office of the U.S. Attorney for the District of Connecticut.

A grand jury in New Haven on June 20 returned a 12-count indictment charging him with one count of possession with intent to distribute oxycodone and alprazolam, an offense that carries a maximum term of imprisonment of 20 years, and 11 counts of obtaining oxycodone and alprazolam by fraud and forgery, an offense that carries a maximum term of imprisonment of four years on each count.

The government alleges that while working as a licensed pharmacist at an unnamed business in Norwich, Tingley forged approximately 183 prescriptions for oxycodone and approximately 26 prescriptions for alprazolam between October 2016 and  July 2017. He is charged with filling the forged prescriptions and obtaining more than 35,000 oxycodone tablets and more than 2,000 alprazolam tablets, and then distributing them for his own benefit.

Tingley was arrested Wednesday in Charlestown, R.I., and appeared before U.S. Magistrate Judge Sarah A. L. Merriam in New Haven. He is being held pending a detention hearing scheduled for Friday. 

John H. Durham, U.S. Attorney for the District of Connecticut, and Brian D. Boyle, special agent in charge of the Drug Enforcement Administration for New England, issued a news release announcing Tingley's indictment hours after U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions and other federal law enforcement officials said they had charged 601 defendants in 58 federal districts, including 165 doctors, nurses and other licensed medical professionals, for their alleged participation in health care fraud schemes involving more than $2 billion in false billings. Of those charged, 162 defendants, including 76 doctors, were charged for their roles in prescribing and distributing opioids and other dangerous narcotics, according to the government. Thirty state Medicaid Fraud Control Units also participated.

In addition, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services announced that, since July 2017, it has excluded 2,700 individuals from participation in Medicare, Medicaid and all other federal health care programs, which includes 587 providers excluded for conduct related to opioid diversion and abuse.

"Health care fraud is a betrayal of vulnerable patients, and often it is theft from the taxpayer," Sessions said in announcing the largest health care fraud enforcement action in American history. "In many cases, doctors, nurses, and pharmacists take advantage of people suffering from drug addiction in order to line their pockets. These are despicable crimes. That's why this Department of Justice has taken historic new steps to go after fraudsters, including hiring more prosecutors and leveraging the power of data analytics."

Sessions said more than 1,000 federal, state, local and tribal law enforcement officers from across the country are working on the fraud cases, along with federal agencies including the FBI, Drug Enforcement Administration, Health Care Fraud task forces, Department of Health and Human Services, the Defense Criminal Investigative Service, IRS Criminal Investigation Unit and Medicare.

The Tingley investigation is being conducted by the Drug Enforcement Administration. The case is being prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorneys Avi M. Perry and John T. Pierpont Jr.

k.florin@theday.com

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