A U.S. District judge has imposed $3.7 million in civil penalties on a Northeast Washington pharmacy and its chief operating officer for more than 149 violations of federal laws that regulate the distribution of drugs.
Judge Louis F. Oberdorfer noted in a written memorandum, however, that the defense lawyer in the case has been unable to contact his clients since last December, and has been informed that the defendants in the case have left the country.
Oberdorfer said he felt the maximum penalty -- $25,000 per violation -- was appropriate because the defendants had "repeatedly violated federal law," failed to respond to government's charges and may have fled from Washington specifically to avoid payment of the civil penalties.
Oberdorfer relied on facts supplied to the court by law enforcement officials in determining the money judgment, believed to be one of the highest penalties ever imposed in a noncriminal case of drug law violations.
The government is expected to attempt to collect the money, despite the absence of the defendants. For example, the government could attempt to get legal attachments on property either owned by the drug store or the chief operating officer.
The pharmacy has been known as the Community prescription Center Inc. of 1130 Maryland Ave. NE, operated by Herbert L. Hunter, who was also a pharmacist there. Attempts to contact both the pharmacy and Hunter yesterday were unsuccessful.
During 1978, District police detectives and agents from the federal Drug Enforcement Administration inspected hundreds of prescriptions at the Center. Investigators said they determined that the pharmacy had not kept complete and accurate records on receipt and distribution of seven types of drugs, including percodan and quaaludes.
For example, Oberdorfer noted that for that one-year period, in which the investigators audited the Center's records, there was no accounting for a shortage of 1,880 tablets of percodan and 1,248 quaaludes.
Moreover, Oberdorfer said in an opinion issued Thursday, the investigators audit of the Center's records also showed that some prescriptions were filled without patients' addresses, others did not have a physicians's government registration number, as required by law, and some simply had no prescription number.
In total, the judge noted, the defendants committed 3,556 violations of federal laws and regulations in connection with 519 prescriptions that involved missing patient addresses, registration numbers, signatures and dates.
Oberdorfer, however, in setting fines for those violations, imposed total penalties of $950,000 for 38 specific violations and an additional $2.7 million for 111 other specific violations.
In the course of the inspection of the Center's records, investigators using a search warrant seized pharmacy records and quantities of controlled substances.
The investigation also revealed that the pharmacy did not keep a complete and accurate record of its drug inventory and did not maintain readily accessible prescription files, Oberdorfer said.