, Corbin, KY

December 19, 2013

Tenhet pleads guilty

Laurel pharmacist returned to London’s federal court Wednesday, Corbin, KY

CORBIN — By John L. Ross / Staff Writer

Although the husband of a London couple charged in a drug conspiracy decided Monday to roll the dice with a federal jury trial — on Wednesday, he decided to plead guilty, according to U.S. Attorney Kerry B. Harvey.

As part of a plea agreement, Charles Terry Tenhet, 63, pleaded guilty to conspiracy to distribute a controlled substance — his wife, 50-year-old Melissa Tenhet, pleaded guilty Monday in U.S. District Court in London.

And with those pleas, the former pharmacy owners must surrender more than $3 million in personal assets, including their Blackberry Lane home, six vehicles, a collection of luxury watches and a plot of land — all of which the Tenhets obtained or used as part of the conspiracy, Harvey said.

Both Tenhets were also sentenced by Judge Amul Thapar. Charles Tenhet received 10 years in prison — Melissa Tenhet faces one year and one day behind bars for her involvement in the conspiracy.

According to Kyle Edelen, public affairs officer with the U.S. Attorney’s Office, “you typically don’t see the plea agreement and sentencing in the same day.”

Harvey said the couple’s actions during this conspiracy helped add pain to an already hurting part of Kentucky.

“(Charles) Tenhet, with the assistance of (Melissa) Tenhet, used his professional license to engage in a massive drug trafficking conspiracy,” Harvey said. “In so doing, he inflicted a great deal of pain on his community — one already hard hit by the scourge of prescription drug abuse.”

Harvey felt the couple received a just sentence.

“The punishment contemplated by the plea agreement is well-deserved,” he said. “Those in the healing arts deserve special attention from law enforcement authorities when they choose to betray their professional duties in favor of the ill-gotten gains made from drug trafficking.”

Charles Tenhet admitted Wednesday he filled out-of-state prescriptions for large quantities of oxycodone in exchange for cash for numerous eastern Kentucky residents.

Those residents traveled in groups to pain clinics in Georgia and Tennessee — and then returned to visit Charles Tenhet’s Manchester pharmacies — Community Drug and Medi-Center Drug.

Some customers drove as far as 600 miles to visit the clinics.

According to the plea agreement, Charles Tenhet knew the visitors were potential drug traffickers and addicts. The plea agreement describes the Tenhets’ customers as being visibly high, lacking physical pain symptoms and appearing destitute and unemployed.

Melissa Tenhet worked as the office manager for Community Drug and admitted she directed co-workers to fill the prescriptions — even when the workers questioned the legality of the prescriptions.

Under federal law, both defendants will each have to serve at least 85 percent of their prison sentence.

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.

Kerry B. Harvey, U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Kentucky, and Robert L. Corso, Special Agent in Charge of DEA, jointly announced the guilty pleas. The investigation was conducted by the DEA. Assistant U.S. Attorney Jason Parman represents the U.S. Attorney’s Office in this case.