Three women arrested in connection with a prescription drug ring last month were told during their arraignment Tuesday that they will not face state charges. But moments later, they were handcuffed by Modesto police officers and taken to a private room adjoining the courtroom, where they learned they instead have been charged federally.
Their male co-defendant did not appear in Stanislaus Superior Court and is wanted on a no-bail warrant.
A few of the defendants’ family members began crying in court when they watched the women taken away in handcuffs. As the defendants were led from the private room and through the court’s hallway, the family members yelled profanities at the officers and bailiffs, as well as at The Modesto Bee’s reporter and photographer.
A federal grand jury on Feb. 19 returned an indictment against Christina Martinez, 27, Lance Wilson, 30, and Mona Chavarin, 43, all of Modesto; and Lenele Nunez, 31, of Hughson.
The indictment was unsealed Wednesday shortly before the women were arraigned in U.S. Eastern District Court in Fresno.
Prompted by an anonymous tip, the Modesto Police Department’s Narcotics Enforcement Team discovered that hundreds of prescriptions had been stolen from a local pain-management clinic and fraudulently filled at a CVS Pharmacy from December 2013 until the arrests last month.
According to the indictment, Nunez would use her authority as officer manager of Central Valley Pain Management in north Modesto to steal blank prescriptions.
She gave them to Martinez, “knowing that (she) would enter false information on them, resulting in fraudulent prescriptions for large quantities of highly addictive, frequently diverted prescriptions drugs including oxycodone and hydrocodone,” the indictment reads.
Martinez and Wilson would then take the prescriptions to the CVS Pharmacy in McHenry Village, where Chavarin worked as a pharmacy technician.
Chavarin would fill the prescriptions for Martinez and Wilson, who would sell them on the streets, according to the indictment.
After the arrests, Dr. Patrick Rhoades at Central Valley Pain Management said he was shocked that Nunez betrayed his trust. He said she was responsible for ordering new prescription pads and had a key to the safe in which they were kept.
Rhoades said he intended to change his policy, requiring two people present to retrieve prescription pads and keeping better inventory.
Chavarin’s pharmacy technician license is still valid, according to public records, but will expire Saturday. The California State Board of Pharmacy has launched an investigation into the incident.
All the defendants are charged with conspiracy to distribute controlled oxycodone and hydrocodone. Martinez, Wilson and Chavarin are also charged with possession with intent to distribute hydrocodone, aiding and abetting; Martinez alone is additionally charged with possession with intent to distribute oxycodone and hydrocodone.
Each count comes with a maximum penalty of 20 years in prison and a $1 million fine.
During searches of the suspects’ homes on Jan. 13, officers seized more than 2,800 pills, two loaded firearms, a high-capacity magazine, $1,000 in cash and several stolen prescription drug pads, according to authorities.
Investigators say hydrocodone has a street value of $3 to $5 a pill, and an 80-milligram oxycodone can sell for up to $40.