TheTimesTribune.com, Corbin, KY
By Becky Killian / Editor
A London couple who allegedly illegally sold prescription drugs through two Clay County pharmacies was expected to plead guilty Monday as part of plea agreements in London’s U.S. District Court.
However, after questioning from Judge Amul R. Thapar, the accused pharmacist, Charles Terry Tenhet, 61, chose to face a federal jury rather than to agree to the details of his alleged crimes as outlined in the plea agreement.
His wife, Melissa Tenhet, 50, whom court documents indicate was the office manager at Community Drug, encountered similar difficulties in admitting to those details, but finally did so to the satisfaction of Thapar, who accepted her guilty plea to conspiracy to distribute oxycodone.
In agreeing to the plea agreement, Melissa Tenhet acknowledged her husband was a pharmacist who owned and operated Community Drug of Manchester and MediCenter Drug, both located in Clay County, the plea agreement indicates. About 2010, Charles Tenhet filled a prescription for oxycodone written by an out-of-state doctor for a casual acquaintance he had met while his home was being built. That acquaintance told others Charles Tenhet would honor prescriptions written by out-of-state doctors. Word spread of his willingness and, as a result, Charles Tenhet began to fill more and more out-of-state prescriptions.
“Mr. Tenhet began a practice of filling out-of-state prescriptions mostly in exchange for cash,” the agreement states. “The number of customers seeking to fill out-of-state oxycodone prescriptions continued to grow steadily, even though Mr. Tenhet raised his cash prices during this time period.”
While his business “flourished,” the agreement states Charles Tenhet was witness to a number of factors indicating many of his customers with “out-of-state prescriptions were potentially drug addicts and drug traffickers who lacked legitimate medical need that would justify filling their prescriptions.”
By March 2011, the agreement states Charles Tenhet knew that groups of people were traveling long distances — sometimes more than 600 miles — to Manchester to have their painkiller prescriptions filled. Sometimes these customers pooled their resources and they presented identical prescriptions for oxycodone and other drugs “regardless of their ages, physical statures, or ailments.”
The plea agreement states many of Charles Tenhet’s customers appeared indigent, but still carried large amounts of money to pay for their pills — an indication they were selling at least some of the drugs. Also, while in the pharmacies, many of these customers appeared to be under the influence of drugs, “had poor hygiene, appeared to be either destitute or unemployed, often seemed to lack physical symptoms of pain, and would sometimes become intensely aggressive whenever it seemed that their prescriptions might not be filled.”
The document states, “With the assistance and knowledge of several pharmacy staff members, Mr. Tenhet nonetheless knowingly, intentionally and repeatedly filled prescriptions for these individuals in exchange for cash.”
Melissa Tenhet was aware of these factors and occasionally directed employees who questioned the prescriptions to fill them anyway, the agreement indicates.
Before he opted for a jury trial, Charles Tenhet was questioned first by Thapar.
While Charles Tenhet agreed he filled prescriptions, he said he didn’t know the prescriptions were illegitimate and that it was illegal for him to fill illegitimate prescriptions. He also said he did not watch clients arrive so he didn’t know they had pooled resources to travel to Manchester.
Following a request by one of his attorneys, Charles Tenhet was granted a recess of about 30 minutes to allow him to consult with his attorneys. During that recess, Melissa Tenhet’s plea agreement was discussed.
When asked if she knew that her husband was filling oxycodone prescriptions for out-of-state clients who had no legitimate need for the pills, Melissa Tenhet responded, “I knew that he filled the prescriptions.”
Melissa Tenhet said she thought the pharmacist was only responsible for filling prescriptions with the correct type of pills and an accurate number of pills, not for determining medical need.
When asked if she knew her husband was illegally filling prescriptions, Melissa Tenhet said, “I know that now.”
The exchange between the judge and Melissa Tenhet continued, with the judge asking her if she was the pharmacy’s office manager. She responded she didn’t have a title, so the judge asked if she worked there.
“A little bit,” Melissa Tenhet responded.
When asked if she had an agreement with her husband to fill the illegitimate prescriptions, Melissa Tenhet said she did, but it wasn’t a spoken agreement.
“And did he fill prescriptions improperly?” Thapar asked.
After a pause, Melissa Tenhet said, “I suspect so, your honor.”
“Well, did you know so?” Thapar asked.
After Thapar expressed concerns about being able to accept plea agreements from the Tenhets because they weren’t clearly admitting to the details outlined in the plea agreements, he allowed a break in Melissa Tenhet’s case. Then Charles Tenhet and his attorneys returned to the courtroom. At that point, one of his attorneys withdrew the motion for re-arraignment, indicating his client had opted for trial.
Charles Tenhet’s federal trial is set for Tuesday, Jan. 21.
When Melissa Tenhet returned to the courtroom, and following a long conference at the bench between the attorneys, she was once again questioned by Thapar. During these questions, she admitted illegitimate prescriptions were filled at the pharmacy and that she had directed others to fill the prescriptions for people who had no need for the pills.
Melissa Tenhet then pleaded guilty to conspiracy to distribute oxycodone.
Thapar accepted Melissa Tenhet’s guilty plea, explaining he couldn’t accept the plea agreement until he receives a pre-sentencing report.
Melissa Tenhet’s sentencing was set for 10 a.m. Tuesday, April 8.
Her attorney then asked that Melissa Tenhet remain free on bond until her sentencing. Following a discussion among the attorneys and the judge, Thapar granted the request, cautioning Melissa Tenhet not to violate the conditions of her bond.
In May, the couple was placed on home detention after their bonds were reduced to $500,000 each. The Tenhets were arrested in January.
According to an affidavit filed in September 2012 by Douglas I. Dalrymple, a special agent with the U.S. Department of Justice Drug Enforcement Administration, clients with out-of-state prescriptions were charged $1,300 cash for 180 30-milligram and 120 15-milligram oxycodone pills at the Clay County pharmacies. Typically, those prescriptions should cost about $43.
According to the affidavit, Charles Tenhet tried “to conceal his illegal distribution of oxycodone by changing prescriptions written for other non-scheduled drugs to prescriptions for oxycodone.”
The affidavit also states an employee was instructed to change information in the business’ computer records before DEA agents arrived. Tenhet also reportedly “borrowed” oxycodone from Medi Center because of deficiencies at Community Drug.
The affidavit cites a source used by the Clay County Sheriff’s Department who saw Melissa Tenhet take an unlabeled pill bottle from an individual and subsequently return the same bottle to the individual after it had been filled with prescription drugs.
Federal investigators were also told the Tenhets routinely worked Saturdays and that their customers with out-of-state prescriptions were aware of this. The source said cash payments were required for the out-of-state prescriptions and that there were days when the pharmacy’s cash drawer had to be emptied three times so the drawer would close.
“On one occasion the source counted $20,000 from sales in one day,” the affidavit states.
A confidential source for Operation UNITE saw a known drug dealer hand Melissa Tenhet three empty pill bottles. The drug dealer told the source, “Watch this. I’m gonna get mine filled all the way to the top,” the affidavit states. Melissa Tenhet allegedly filled the bottles with Xanax, fluracet and neurotin.
During a September 2012 search of the Tenhets’ home, the affidavit states agents found nearly $450,000 cash, records related to Community Drug, and information about vehicles registered to Community Drug.