December 21, 2014

Elyria
Mostly clear
28°F
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Owner says nothing illegal was going on at Lorain pharmacy

LORAIN — A co-owner of Southside Pharmacy, one of two Lorain County pharmacies raided by state and federal law enforcement in May, defended his business Tuesday from accusations it served as a hub of drug trafficking and money laundering.

“I know that nothing illegal is happening at Southside,” Sbeih Sbeih said.

Neither Sbeih nor fellow pharmacist Osama Salouha, who shares ownership of Southside in Lorain with him, has been charged with a crime. Sbeih said the pharmacy reopened shortly after being raided in May by the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration and the Internal Revenue Service.

But federal officials have filed a civil lawsuit seeking to force the forfeiture of nearly $2.3 million in bank deposits and cash, as well as three cars and two homes that they contend are part of a scheme to sell painkillers at Southside and the Medicine Center Pharmacy in Elyria, which is owned solely by Salouha.

The two pharmacists allegedly moved money between 20 different bank accounts, including to banks in the Middle East, as part of a money laundering effort, according to federal prosecutors.

Court documents filed last week stated that Southside was buying and selling hundreds of thousands of painkillers each year, according to an audit performed on the pharmacy.

Prosecutors compared the number of painkillers purchased by Southside over the past few years to those purchased by the main campus of the Cleveland Clinic. For example, Southside purchased 581,800 tablets of the powerful painkiller oxycodone in 2012. The clinic’s main campus purchased 261,440 tablets of the drug last year, according to the court documents.

Sbeih said it was unfair to compare his small neighborhood pharmacy to a hospital pharmacy because they serve different clienteles.

“We fill over 400 prescriptions a day at Southside, and we have thousands of customers,” Sbeih said.

Federal officials have declined to discuss the investigation into the two pharmacies, both of which reopened after the raids.

Contact Brad Dicken at 329-7147 or bdicken@chroniclet.com.