The Office of the Attorney General of Alabama has opened an investigation into the conduct of the Alabama Pharmacy Board in connection with an investigation into a North Alabama pharmacist whose license was suspended by the board earlier this year, according to a filing the office has filed. of the AG filed Tuesday in a Pharmacy Board hearing.
Pharmacist Billy Flint East had his license suspended in March after the Pharmacy Board determined he had not received proper clearance from the US Drug Enforcement Administration due to a previous conviction for illegally dispensing a controlled substance.
However, East’s attorney Jamie Moncus filed brief documents in the case that clearly showed East was never responsible for getting the DEA waiver, and East’s employer Brooklere Pharmacy also informed the counsel’s attorneys. note that it took responsibility for not obtaining the exemption. (Oddly enough, Brooklere contacted the Alabama Pharmacy Board before hiring East, and the Board approved the lease.)
However, the board of directors declined to reverse its decision and East was in the midst of a lengthy hearing after being incapacitated for more than six months when the AG’s office intervened and closed the case.
The letter from AG Steve Marshall announced that he was taking over the case, dismissing the charges against East and getting his pharmacy license back. In the same letter, Marshall said that “credible allegations have been made about the handling of this case by the employees of the Alabama Pharmacy Board, which is now under investigation.”
It was an astonishing turn of events for East and Moncus, who took the case pro bono, expressing their dismay at the arrogant way the board’s attorneys had treated his client, ignoring ground rules and laws.
“I am so impressed with the way the AG’s office has handled this matter and the prompt action they have taken after the facts were presented to them,” Moncus said. “This case should never have come this far and the staff of the Board of Directors and the legal counsel have abused this process from the start. I hope the AG office thoroughly investigates what happened to Billy Easy and holds people accountable for what happened to him.”
According to a source familiar with the AG’s actions, the intervention in East’s case could be the first of many as Marshall’s office tries to bring in state regulators who often overstep their authority. It’s a growing concern, the source said.
Attempts to reach Alabama Pharmacy Board officials were unsuccessful on Wednesday. A person who answered the phone at the office of the Board of Directors said that Executive Secretary Donna Yeatman would be the only person who could officially speak about the actions of the AG, but Yeatman was in a meeting. Yeatman never responded to the call.
Moncus said his call to East Tuesday was one of the best moments he’s had in ages.
“(East) was almost in tears when I told him,” Moncus said. “It was quite a phone call, because honestly I couldn’t believe it at the time either. I had no idea this promotion was coming. I was honestly amazed. And Billy was so happy to finally have his life back. He can now move on and go back to work and hopefully retire with some dignity in a few years.”
It’s been a long road to this point for East, and this certainly won’t be the first time he’s started again.
In the early 2000s, East became entangled in a federal sting operation aimed at distributing painkillers online. East and his wife ran a small pharmacy in Gardendale at the time, and they started working with at least two websites that specialized in selling hydrocodone online.
In early testimony, the Easts said they believed what they were doing was legal because the prescriptions they filled were written by a doctor and they followed Alabama guidelines at the time. The DEA disagreed, accusing East of multiple felonies, essentially naming him and his wife the key players in the hydrocodone distribution.
East eventually pleaded guilty to the charges and served three years.
After his release, Alabama law allowed East to regain his pharmacy license, but to work at a pharmacy that handled controlled substances, the pharmacy had to get a waiver through the DEA.
Last year, the Pharmacy Council discovered the inattention during routine checks. But instead of allowing Brooklere to correct the problem and apply for the waiver, the Council suspended East and set charges that could have his license revoked.
However, during a pre-hearing conference, Moncus said a counsel, James Ward, told East that if he simply admitted the mistake he made, he would essentially recommend a slap on the wrist and everyone could move on. That seemed reasonable, since Brooklere had contacted the DEA by then and had been given the appropriate exemption for East.
However, according to a source familiar with the hearing, Ward “cheated the man and pulled the rug from under him.” Rather than advocating a slap on the wrist, East’s license was recommended to be revoked. And that is the action the board took last March.
“There was no basis for it, absolutely none,” Moncus said. “These people were ruling over something that was against their own rules.”
That started with a lengthy hearing that lasted months, and included numerous cases of a hearing officer ruling on substantive motions — something Moncus called “a violation of the Alabama Administrative Procedures Act.”
“For example, a hearing officer in this state does not have the authority to decide on a denial request,” Moncus said. “That is the task of the Council. The Hearing Officer is there to facilitate the process, nothing more. But that process is systematically violated.”
But the action likely to prompt intervention by the AG’s office came last month when the owners of Brooklere Pharmacy informed counsel that they intended to testify at East’s hearing and explain that they were responsible. were for not obtaining the exemption. At that point, more than a year into the case, the board first brought charges against Brooklere — an action that appeared to be designed to prevent the pharmacy’s owners from testifying on East’s behalf.
The AG’s office on Wednesday issued a separate injunction dismissing the charges against Brooklere.
“It’s just wrong — what they did was absolutely wrong,” Moncus said. “I just hope the AG’s office investigation reveals a motivation that I just can’t see. Because right now the only motivation I can see for all of this is sheer meanness.”
For that reason, Moncus said East has not ruled out filing a civil lawsuit against the Board.
“While the letter from the AG’s office was a surprise and a blessing, it certainly doesn’t make (East) whole again,” Moncus said. “He is seriously damaged by what they did to him. Someone should be held accountable for that and solved it.”