Court hears druggist's call to wife to throw out 'trash'

Tuesday, December 18, 2001

KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- A pharmacist accused of diluting cancer drugs made a jail-house call to his wife to ask her to throw away "outdated medicine" in the trunk of his car, according to a recording played in court Monday.

Robert R. Courtney's attorneys are trying to get his confessions thrown out, and to get him released on bond. On Wednesday they plan to ask a judge to move his trial outside of Kansas City.

U.S. Magistrate Judge Robert E. Larsen said a federal judge has told him to revisit the issue of Courtney's detention, which he ordered Aug. 20 after deeming the pharmacist a flight risk.

Meanwhile, federal prosecutors announced that another pharmacist had pleaded guilty to receiving stolen pharmaceuticals from a hospital in the Denver area. Federal authorities said the two cases are not directly linked.

Courtney, 49, faces 20 federal charges of diluting, adulterating and misbranding the chemotherapy drugs Gemzar and Taxol. He has pleaded innocent and remains held without bond.

During Courtney's hearing, prosecutors re-asserted their claim that Courtney had asked his wife to destroy evidence. The request shows Courtney should not be granted bond, prosecutors said.

Courtney's attorneys said it wasn't clear Courtney was asking his wife to destroy evidence.

Confessions questioned

In a recording of their conversation played in court, Courtney says, "In the trunk of my car, there's two boxes that are trash, so would you throw them away? They say 'trash' on them."

He also told his wife, "there's some outdated medicine that needs to be thrown away."

It was unclear whether Courtney's wife acted on the request. But FBI agent David Parker testified that the trash and "outdated medicine" was never turned over to investigators. Parker said Laura Courtney twice denied throwing away anything from Courtney's car.

The privately operated prison in Leavenworth, Kan., where Courtney is being held records all inmate phone calls.

Prosecutors said Courtney, in another phone call, asked his father to retrieve from a safety deposit box papers from a marital "dissolution with Charlene," which Courtney said Laura Courtney did not know about.

Courtney's attorneys are also trying to show Courtney might have confessed because he thought he was striking a plea agreement. Such a statement would not be admissible in court.

Defense attorney J.R. Hobbs repeatedly asked Parker whether Courtney might have thought prosecutors would go easy on him if he confessed to diluting the drugs. Parker said no such promises were made.

Parker said he did tell Courtney the government would not seek to have him jailed while he awaited trial. But he said that was not offered in exchange for a confession.

The government claims Courtney confessed to weakening the chemotherapy drugs so he could pocket the difference in price. Courtney owed more than $600,000 in taxes and $330,000 on a pledge to his church, according to court papers.

Courtney's attorneys played other phone calls to show his strong family and community ties, trying to convince Larsen that he wouldn't flee if he is allowed to post bond.

Drug theft case

In the other case, Gary S. Ravis, 58, of Leawood, Kan., admitted Monday that over a five-year period he received between $30,000 and $35,000 worth of drugs stolen from the Denver hospital, the U.S. attorney's office said in a statement. Officials would not identify the hospital. Ravis then sold them at Phil's Prescriptions and Vitamins in Kansas City, which has since closed, the statement said.

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