2 Druggists Are Charged In Scheme Officials Say They, 2 Other Pharmacists And A Doctor Filed Phony Insurance Claims.

Posted: November 19, 1997

Two prominent Center City pharmacists were charged yesterday with racketeering in a decade-long scheme in which they, two other pharmacists and a Montgomery County physician allegedly made $1.4 million defrauding insurance companies with bogus claims for prescription drugs.

Lawrence Durst, 56, of West Rittenhouse Square, and his brother, Sheldon, 63, of the 2200 block of the Benjamin Franklin Parkway, were charged in a criminal information with conspiracy to commit racketeering, distribution of controlled drugs and a count seeking the forfeiture of up to $1.4 million in assets from Lawrence Durst and $700,000 from Sheldon Durst.

Lawyers for the Durst brothers said they had been cooperating with federal prosecutors and would plead guilty.

``He has been cooperating with federal authorities for over 2 1/2 years and has come to grips with this situation,'' said Lawrence Durst's attorney, Jeffrey M. Miller.

Ivan Fisher, a New York City lawyer representing Sheldon Durst, said that ``Mr. Durst very much regrets the conduct that led to these charges. He accepts full responsibility for that conduct and intends to do everything he can to make amends.''

U.S. Attorney Michael R. Stiles yesterday called the prosecution of the Dursts the first use in this region of the federal racketeering statute - created to fight organized crime - in a health-care fraud case.

``Prescription-drug dealing by licensed professionals is no different . . . than heroin and cocaine sales by street dealers,'' he said.

The charges allege that the Dursts operated the scheme between 1985 and 1994 from their four pharmacies: Queen Village Pharmacy and Centre City Pharmacy in Philadelphia, and the Lansdale Pharmacy and Bridgeport Pharmacy in Montgomery County.

The Dursts allegedly had their employees create ``phantom'' prescription files and then billed government and private prescription plans for such high-price pharmaceuticals as the anti-depressant Prozac or the cholesterol reducer Mevacor.

Using computers and printers, the criminal information alleges, the Dursts' employees created bogus prescription forms and invoices from drug wholesalers to cover up the fraud.

Prosecutors also allege that the Dursts supplemented their pharmaceutical stocks with drugs stolen from other pharmacies and with physician samples, and also sold to street drug dealers large quantities of widely abused prescription drugs, such as codeine-based cough syrups and the narcotic painkillers Percocet and Percodan.

Also charged yesterday in related criminal informations were:

* Arnold Payne Jr., 32, of Columbia, Md., a pharmacist who allegedly stole prescription and nonprescription drugs from his employer and sold them to drug dealers and to Sheldon Durst for resale.

* Larry Shuster, 44, of the 3100 block of Guilford Street in Mayfair, a pharmacist who worked for the Dursts in Philadelphia and allegedly submitted more than $175,000 in false prescription-drug claims on their behalf to insurers.

* Howard Cravetz, 75, of the 1400 block of Boyer Boulevard in Norristown, a physician who formerly practiced in Bridgeport. From 1989 through 1994, he allegedly delivered samples from pharmaceutical salespeople to Lawrence Durst's Bridgeport pharmacy in exchange for merchandise from the pharmacy.

Their attorneys were unavailable for comment.

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