COLUMBUS, Ohio — A former Ohio pharmacist linked by the government to two drug overdose deaths but never charged in those cases was sentenced to two years in prison Monday for illegally dispensing pain pills.
Harold Fletcher was also ordered to pay a $75,000 fine and $275,000 in restitution to the IRS, and he must serve a year in home detention after his release from prison. He must perform more than 200 hours of community service the year after that.
Fletcher, 43, ran a Columbus pharmacy and was responsible for illegally dispensing thousands of prescription painkillers, government prosecutors alleged in late 2010.
But the more than 200 counts against Fletcher were ultimately dropped when he agreed to plead guilty to one count of illegally prescribing 480 tablets of the painkiller oxycodone on Feb. 3, 2006, to a patient who went to his Columbus pharmacy for pain treatment.
Fletcher also pleaded guilty to filing a false tax return and hiding money by making cash deposits under a limit that triggers an automatic bank review.
Fletcher voluntarily gave up his pharmacist's license last year, and as part of his plea deal he has agreed to have nothing to do with pharmacies or prescribing drugs again.
Fletcher fell victim to greed, U.S. District Court Judge Algenon Marbley said at Monday's sentencing.
"Avarice, Mr. Fletcher, Avarice. Pure greed," Marbley said. "Unfortunately, the consequence of your greed is that people suffered."
The Drug Enforcement Administration said Fletcher filled painkiller prescriptions for Leslie Cooper of West Portsmouth in southern Ohio on Oct. 2, 2009, the day before she was found dead of an overdose, according to DEA records.
The DEA says several pills, including some not prescribed by Fletcher, as well as "a silver spoon with white residue on it and a needle with no cap on it" were found near Cooper's body. Cooper's family has acknowledged she was an addict.
The doctor who prescribed the pain pills that Fletcher filled for Cooper was charged late last year with drug trafficking and corrupt activity and his office shut down, with authorities calling it a glorified drug house.
Cooper's mother, Barbara Howard, testified before Fletcher was sentenced that as far as he was concerned, "all she looked like to you was money."
"Don't forget her name, because I'll never forget yours," Howard said, holding up a photograph of Cooper, who was 34 when she died.
Fletcher is the first pharmacist in Ohio to be successfully prosecuted under a legal theory that suspicious prescriptions don't have to be filled, said Assistant U.S. Attorney Michael Marous.
"He did not have the good sense to say no to a doctor who was writing too many prescriptions," he said.
In brief comments, Fletcher apologized to his son for the time he would be away in prison and thanked friends and family who supported him.
Fletcher cannot be blamed for dispensing pills to someone who didn't follow the directions on the bottle, his attorney, Brad Barbin, said after the hearing.
"It is a sad case? Yes. Did he do bad things? Yes. Should he have known better? Yes," Barbin said. "But lots of people make mistakes."
"The issue is, are we going to tell the whole truth with a complex problem that involves manufacturers, and DEA and distributors, and doctors not knowing what to do and pharmacists not knowing what to do," he said.
Fletcher also filled numerous prescriptions written by Dr. Paul Volkman, a Chicago doctor convicted earlier this year of running a pill mill in southern Ohio and causing the deaths of four patients who overdosed, according to DEA records.
Volkman faces 20 years in prison at his sentencing in federal court in Cincinnati next month.