September 18, 2014

Elyria
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Pharmacy owners indicted on federal drug charges

Two owners of Medicine Center on Cleveland Street in Elyria have been indicted on federal charges. CHRONICLE FILE PHOTO

The owners of two pharmacies, including The Medicine Center Pharmacy on Cleveland Street in Elyria, have been indicted on federal charges. CHRONICLE FILE PHOTO

The owners of two Lorain County pharmacies raided last year have been indicted on federal charges accusing them of illegally selling painkillers and engaging in various schemes to hide their profits, according to a federal indictment made public this week.

Osama Salouha, who owns Southside Pharmacy in Lorain and the Medicine Center Pharmacy in Elyria, used his pharmacy license to distribute painkillers such as oxycodone to customers of the two locations and conspired to cover up the proceeds, prosecutors said.

The indictment said Salouha failed to properly screen customers when he was filling prescriptions, circumventing rules designed to prevent people from obtaining drugs to abuse.

For instance, Salouha regularly filled painkiller prescriptions early, “thus allowing customers to obtain more pills over time than the physicians’ prescriptions allowed.”

He also allegedly filled prescriptions that had been rejected by other pharmacists and engaged in other practices designed to keep customers. He is accused of dispensing medication to one customer who used someone else’s name.

“It was further part of the conspiracy that Osama Salouha prevented employees from questioning customers who appeared to be drug seekers,” the indictment said.

He also allegedly purchased large quantities of the painkiller Oxycontin after the manufacturer announced in 2010 that it would reformulate the drug to make it harder to crush and otherwise ingest in an abusive manner.

Once the reformulated version of Oxycontin hit the market, the indictment said, Salouha cut orders for that drug and “dramatically increased his purchase orders” for other painkillers that didn’t have the same safeguards against abuse.

In court documents filed last year, prosecutors wrote that for its small size, Southside was buying huge quantities of oxycodone compared to those that were purchased by the main campus of the Cleveland Clinic. In 2012, Southside bought 581,800 tablets of the painkiller, while the Cleveland Clinic pharmacy purchased 261,440 tablets.

Sbeih Sbeih, the co-owner of Southside, allegedly worked with Salouha to cover up the illegal sales and also conspired to defraud the U.S. Internal Revenue Service, said the news release sent Wednesday by U.S. Attorney for Northern Ohio Steven Dettelbach’s office.

Both Salouha, who lived in Strongsville, and Sbeih, of North Olmsted, are pharmacists, authorities said.

The scheme allegedly involved international money laundering by making wire transfers to overseas bank accounts. A lawsuit filed by federal officials last year seeks the forfeiture of nearly $2.3 million in bank deposits and cash, three cars and two homes.

The court documents filed last year said between 2007 and 2011, Southside did nearly $22.8 million in business that was moved through a variety of personal and business accounts controlled by Sbeih and Salouha. Some of the accounts, according to prosecutors, were in the names of Salouha’s children.

Salouha and his wife, Samah Salouha, also face charges of making false statements to law enforcement. The couple and their children left the country May 12, 2013, just days after the raids and following interviews with law enforcement, according to the indictment.

In total, the three people charged this week face 53 criminal charges.

Sbeih denied being involved with criminal activity in an interview with The Chronicle-Telegram last July.

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

Northern Ohio has suffered a spike in heroin and other painkiller-related overdose deaths in the past year. Dettelbach said in the news release the investigation is part of the effort to curb those problems.

“The opioid and heroin epidemic in this state is fueled by drug dealers out to make money,” Dettelbach said in the release. “Whether the evidence leads to a cartel, a stash house or behind a pharmacy counter, we will follow it, and we will hold these profiteers accountable.”

The investigation included cooperation among a large number of law enforcement agencies, including the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration, the Lorain County Drug Task Force, the IRS, the FBI and others.

Contact Brad Dicken at 329-7147 or bdicken@chroniclet.com. Follow him on Twitter @BradDickenCT.

 


  • Arietta Sullivan

    i had no clue they were doing this when i lived down the street from the business,a few years back. i wish i did. the ‘legal drug pushers’ gives the pills,to anyone,even for a hangnail and this is where the core of the problem starts&unfortunately, there is no pill for greed.

  • Messiah

    Hey law officials why dont you go after the politicians that are profiting from and bring it into this country. Thats how you cut the supply off.;

    • Bob

      How about the owners of the shop, NOT sell drugs illegally.

    • C. Ann

      Stop them from bringing legal pharmaceuticals into the country?

    • golfingirl

      Sure, and then all the sick Americans can simply die without their lifesaving medications, once the supply is cut off!

      A brillant idea…..one way to control healthcare costs, let them all just die.

      Oh wait, the VA system is already doing that.

  • karenwilliamsfoley

    Just wondering if these people were born in the US???? If not we need to deport them.

    • golfingirl

      If they were Mexican, we would not be permitted to do so.

      Any other nationality, I suppose we are allowed to enforce the immigration laws.

      Osama doesn’t sound like a Mexican name to me…..I agree, deport them.

      • Smira29595

        Looks like you have a stalker

        • golfingirl

          Yeah, add an extra “g” in my name, and change a number in yours and they think they are so clever.

          Just add him to the list of those here who have done this in the past.

          A feeble attempt to be like me, and you, I guess.

          • Smira29595

            I think a feeble at Sniperfire too. (snapper)

    • C. Ann

      They are no longer in the country. I hope we can bring them back.

  • angelandfire

    If they had taken it to Florida it is legal down there. You can go into any shopping center and find a doctor’s office and pharmacy (next door usually) where the dr will give you the script for whatever you want and the place next door fills it. Then you drive home. Some folks from snowbird states make $5000 a month peddling these pills to folks back home and it’s perfectly legal for them to have the pills in their possession as they have a script for them. I saw a couple of hour documentary on TV about this perfectly legal scam that goes on day after day after day.

  • golfingirl

    FDA requires the pharma company disclose all pertinent adverse effects, hence the length of the commercials.

    While I too am tired of the long commercials, especially for ED treatments, they do have the same right to advertise and market their products like any other business. They are, after all, a for profit business.

    Direct to consumer advertising has proven to be very effective, and has replaced a lot of the sales rep/physician interaction. Look at the huge layoffs by the major pharma companies over the past few years.

    I would also like to see automobile manufacturers cut down on advertising, and use the money to lower the price of a car. Can say the same for a lot of other businesses, like insurance companies. (Geico, Progressive, AllState …to name a few)

    Just something we have to live with, or turn off the television I guess.

  • C. Ann

    Not surprised at all. They have been sending money via Western Union overseas for years. Too bad they are not currently in the country. Can we bring them back?

  • golfingirl

    Another brilliant response, Sockpuppet

  • Smira29595

    For some onewho keeps callin others “stupid” you think you would knoe it should “you’re” Not very bright yourself.

  • Smira29595

    Better get YOUR personalities straight. ( the proper use of your)