9 face felony drug charges
Nine people face felony drug charges in unrelated cases in which authorities allege they obtained or attempted to obtain prescription drugs by illegal methods in multiple locations throughout the county and beyond.
Many of the arrests were made after agents from the state Attorney General's Office, the Armstrong District Attorney's Office and the Armstrong County Narcotics Enforcement Team (ARMNET) collaborated in a countywide round up of suspects on Nov. 16.
Those charged are Cynthia L. Hinton, 55, of New Kensington; Erika Brooks Parson, 27, of Templeton; Tammy Lynn Cravener, 29, of Kittanning; Hazel M. Mowery, 50, of Kittanning; Joni R. DeBacco, 53, of Chicora; Martin Gagliano Jr., 29, of Rimersburg; Danny Rex Phillips, 34, of Apollo; Rosemary R. Harkleroad, 40, of Kittanning and Jamie Painter, 34, of Kittanning.
All but Harkleroad are charged with acquisition of a controlled substance by fraud, forgery, deception or subterfuge. Harkleroad's drug violation charges include theft, forgery and insurance fraud – for allegedly buying fraudulently obtained medications using a medical insurance card.
District Attorney Scott Andreassi said that crimes associated with prescription drug abuse have been on the increase.
The majority of those involved in prescription theft or fraud are doing it to feed their own habit, Andreassi said.
It seems that Parson, a registered nurse, and Hinton, a pharmacist, were able to use their medical experience to obtain prescription drugs illegally.
According to the police criminal complaint in Hinton's case, her alleged criminal activity occurred on various dates between Oct. 27, 2011 and Aug. 18 of this year at Rite Aid pharmacies in multiple counties.
A police investigation into Hinton's activities began on Aug. 27 after a district manager with the pharmacy chain received complaints from Hinton's coworkers that she had been seen filling Hydrocodone prescriptions for multiple individuals and then signing the patient log under those names. Hinton also was seen paying for the drugs herself and taking the medications with her when she left the store.
The complaint alleges that on Aug. 28, Hinton admitted to her supervisors that she created fraudulent prescriptions while working at Rite Aid pharmacies in Ford City, Apollo and New Bethlehem. She also admitted stealing large quantities of Hydrocodone (an opiate) from those locations as well as from Rite Aids in Kittanning, Latrobe, Uniontown, Blairsville and Johnstown. An internal audit of all Rite Aid locations where Hinton had worked found that 3,831 dosage units of Hydrocodone were missing at a value of $2,475.10.
In Parson's case, the criminal complaint alleges Parson used physicians' Drug Enforcement Administration numbers to call in prescriptions to multiple pharmacies using a phony name. In this way, she was able to get prescriptions filled for Oxycodone and Vicodin at locations in Armstrong, Indiana and Allegheny counties from May 2011 through June 2011.
Andreassi said hospitals and medical practices should be on the lookout for patients who appear to be doctor shopping – meaning patients who visit multiple doctors in order to obtain multiple prescription medications.
Doctors also need to be more vigilant on securing prescription pads, said Andreassi. And although local pharmacies have started communicating with one another, more can be done, he said.
The public also can help prevent prescription drug abuse by securing medications at home, said Andreassi.
“Kids are taking grandma and grandpa's muscle relaxers,” said Andreassi, adding that addicts often steal from friends, neighbors and relatives.
Four others were arrested by agents on drug related charges during the roundup. They and the allegations are:
• Richard A. Gillespie, 54, of Shelocta, was charged with possession and manufacture of a controlled substance after police found 14 marijuana plants on his property in August.
•Thomas Bowser, 43, of Kittanning, was charged with possession and manufacture of a controlled substance after police found 19 marijuana plants behind his trailer in July.
•Scott Lee Cravener, 28, of Yatesboro, was charged with possession and delivery of a controlled substance and criminal use of a communication facility after allegedly selling morphine to a confidential informant in Valley Township in August.
•Stephen C. Bruner, 22, of Kittanning, was charged with possession of a firearm, prohibited offensive weapon, possession of a controlled substance and possession with intent to use drug paraphernalia. He was charged after police obtained a search warrant in February and discovered marijuana, cocaine, paraphernalia and a loaded sawed-off shot gun at his residence.