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3 VA employees face charges for conspiring to steal, sell prescription drugs

Three Veterans Affairs employees face charges of conspiring to steal prescription drugs from a Little Rock VA hospital and distribute them throughout the community.

On Wednesday, Christopher R. Thyer, United States Attorney for the Eastern District of Arkansas, announced the unsealing of a federal indictment against 44-year-old Satishkumar “Steve” Patel of North Little Rock, 33-year-old Alisha Pagan of Mabelvale, and 42-year-old Nikita Neal of Little Rock.

Thyer says the indictment stems from an investigation that was started by the Department of Veterans Affairs Office of the Inspector General (VAOIG) and the DEA in June 2016. It alleges the three were involved in a scheme to order prescription drugs and divert them from the VA John L. McClellan Memorial Veterans Hospital to distribute on the street.

Thyer states the investigation revealed that Patel, who was working as a pharmacy technician, used his VA access to a medical supplier's web portal to order more than 7,000 oxycodone and hydrocodone pills, 14,000 Viagra and Cialis pills and 308 ounces of promethazine with codeine syrup. It is alleged that Patel falsified payment invoices to avoid detection.

According to authorities, Patel would then give the prescriptions to pharmacy technician Pagan, who would distribute a portion of the drugs to Neal, a pharmacy technician student trainee.

These items have a street value of more than $160,000 and cost the VA more than $77,000 dollars.

“This case is an example of government employees using their position of trust to not only steal from the taxpayers of Arkansas, but also to poison the communities we live in with dangerous drugs,” Thyer said.

All three defendants are charged with conspiracy to steal the medication and conspiracies to distribute oxycodone and hydrocodone. Patel faces four additional counts of possession with intent to deliver oxycodone and Pagan faces one count of the same charge.

Conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute oxycodone and hydrocodone and possession with intent to distribute oxycodone and hydrocodone is punishable by up to 20 years in prison, a $1 million fine and up to 3 years supervised release. Conspiracy to steal government property is punishable by up to five years in prison, a $250,000 fine and up to three years supervised release.

A spokeperson for the Central Arkansas VA said in a statement to Channel 7 News that two people have been fired and one is still employed, but on unpaid suspension.

"Central Arkansas Veterans Healthcare System (CAVHS) deeply regrets that these 3 Pharmacy professionals have broken public trust when implicated in pharmaceutical diversion. CAVHS Leadership contacted VA OIG in 2016 when first becoming aware of serious operational concerns within Pharmacy. CAVHS has fully cooperated with every step of the subsequent investigation.

The facility took immediate action to ensure that patient safety was not affected. Two of those mentioned in the indictment are no longer employed by CAVHS, and one is on indefinite suspension. “Inappropriate, unethical, and criminal behavior is not tolerated at CAVHS,” said Dr. Margie Scott, Medical Center director. “We are continuing to work with authorities.”

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