22 Miami school employees charged with drug traffic

Federal authorities say ring dealt in OxyContin

August 05, 2005|By Ihosvani Rodriguez | Ihosvani Rodriguez,SOUTH FLORIDA SUN-SENTINEL

MIAMI - Federal agents yesterday rounded up 22 Miami-Dade County school system employees who were accused of being part of a prescription drug ring that illegally obtained and sold thousands of tablets of the painkiller oxycodone since 2003.

Officials found no evidence that school employees sold the drug to students or used the highly addictive painkillers at work. The employees included five school bus drivers, 13 school bus attendants, a cook, two custodians and a school cashier. A Miami-Dade transit bus driver who was arrested worked previously as a school bus driver.

Authorities unsealed a federal grand jury indictment yesterday that contained 84 counts against 29 people. The lengthy list of charges includes conspiracy to distribute oxycodone and committing health care fraud.

Among those charged was a Miami-Dade doctor arrested last year for writing illegal prescriptions for the drug commonly known as OxyContin. Prosecutors said no teachers were involved in the plot.

Investigators rushed to make the arrests before next week's start of the school year and expect more arrests, U.S. Attorney R. Alexander Acosta said.

Schools spokesman Joseph Garcia said there was no indication the bus drivers were under the influence of drugs while working. He said drivers must take a drug test before employment and after an accident, and submit to random drug tests.

A central figure in the case was Dr. Ronald E. Harris, prosecutors said. Authorities identified Harris last year as Florida's top prescriber of OxyContin to Medicaid patients. He was charged last year with drug trafficking after allegedly selling undercover police officers 10 OxyContin prescriptions without proof of medical need. He is awaiting trial. Officials with the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration said Harris' arrest prompted their investigation of the school system employees.

Investigators said the operation was traced back to January 2003 when Harris began selling prescriptions to Ian Stuart and Johnny Blocker, identified as the ring's leaders. Blocker, a bus attendant, paid colleagues for their school employee insurance information to obtain and pay for the prescription drugs, authorities said.

The ringleaders paid school employees up to $100 per prescription and up to $400 if they went to a pharmacy to get the pills. Employees sold the pills to a street dealer, who resold them for as much as $80 a pill.

OxyContin, prescribed for chronic pain, has become a huge force in the black market in recent years.

The South Florida Sun Sentinel is a Tribune Publishing newspaper.

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