Pharmacist Bros. Charged In Drug Scam

Posted: November 19, 1997

By all appearances, brothers Lawrence and Sheldon Durst, pharmacists who operated four drugstores in Philadelphia and Montgomery County, were well-to-do law-abiding citizens.

A resident of Rittenhouse Square, Lawrence Durst's name was noted in recent years in the society column of the Philadelphia Inquirer when he was spotted at charity balls or dinner parties. He could boast of friendships with VIPs like District Attorney Lynne Abraham and former Eagles' quarterback Ron Jaworski, an associate said.

But the Durst brothers also were scammers and drug traffickers, federal authorities alleged yesterday. The Dursts, now ratting on each other and others to avoid long prison terms, were charged in federal court with racketeering and drug trafficking. Both have agreed to plead guilty at a later date and to forfeit assets totaling $2.1 million.

Over a 10-year period, Lawrence Durst allegedly swindled more than $1.4 million from government and private health-care programs, mainly by billing for ``phantom'' prescriptions that were never filled. Sheldon extended a helping hand in recent years, authorities said.

The brothers also were supplying ``enormous quantities'' of prescription drugs to street drug dealers, they charged. The Durst brothers ``created a major illicit source of'' street drugs, U.S. Attorney Michael R. Stiles said at a press conference.

Federal and state law enforcement authorities began peeling away the facade several years ago, and closed the four drugstores some time ago. ``The charges are not a surprise,'' said Lawrence Durst's attorney, Jeffrey M. Miller.

Two other pharmacists and a physician, minor players who were associated with the Dursts, also were charged. They, too, have entered into plea bargains.

Larry Shuster, 44, a pharmacist who worked at two of the Dursts' drugstores, the Queen Village Pharmacy, at 3rd and Catharine streets, and the Centre City Pharmacy, at 20th and Pine streets, admitted helping the Dursts swindle about $175,000 from insurers. Another pharmacist, Arnold Payne Jr., 32, of Columbia, Md., has admitted stealing drugs from the Rite Aid where he worked in Maryland. The stolen drugs then were resold on streets, said Assistant U.S. Attorney David R. Hoffman.

Dr. Howard Cravetz, 75, of Norristown, who recently closed his Bridgeport, Pa., medical office, was charged with causing drugs to be misbranded. Cravetz, whose office was near the Dursts' Bridgeport Pharmacy, has admitted giving free samples of prescription drugs to Lawrence Durst in exchange for tobacco and other merchandise.

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