Druggist gave out stolen drugs for decade

Wednesday, March 20, 2002

KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- Pharmacist Robert R. Courtney distributed 'gray market' medicine for 10 years before he was caught watering down chemotherapy drugs, say court papers filed in a civil case.

And federal authorities believe Courtney was supplied with stolen drugs by a retired drug company salesman.

Pharmacists Mutual Insurance Co., which sold insurance to Courtney, wrote a letter to Courtney's attorney on March 1 saying it has reviewed Courtney's August confession to the FBI.

"In that statement, Mr. Courtney admits to having purchased chemotherapy drugs on the 'gray market' for 'about 10 years.' This included purchasing products from a retired drug salesman and from unnamed out-of-state sources," the letter said.

U.S. Attorney's Office spokesman Chris Whitley said Tuesday that federal authorities believe Courtney got drugs from Walter J. Accurso, who has acknowledged selling stolen drugs to pharmacists in the Kansas City area. Accurso was never charged criminally, but he consented to a $33,650 civil judgment in an action initiated by federal prosecutors.

Accurso, who was not licensed to distribute drugs, allegedly sold stolen cancer drugs and other medications such as Zocor and Lipitor in 2000 and 2001. He was not accused of stealing the drugs himself.

In December, pharmacy owner Gary S. Ravis of Leawood, Kan., pleaded guilty to receiving drugs stolen from a Denver-area hospital. Authorities have declined to say if that hospital was also the source for Accurso's stolen drugs.

Accurso was a former western regional sales manager at Smith Kline Diagnostics.

Pharmacists Mutual sued Courtney last week, asking a federal judge to declare that it doesn't have to cover Courtney in the more than 200 lawsuits filed by cancer patients and their relatives. The company says its policies exclude coverage for criminal acts. The letter was included in the file.

The suit names as defendants 250 people who are suing Courtney in state court. Courtney's insurance has been cited as a potential source of money if Courtney loses those suits.

Courtney, 49, pleaded guilty Feb. 26 to 20 counts of adulterating, misbranding, and tampering with chemotherapy drugs. He is jailed while he awaits sentencing.

Attorney Michael Ketchmark, who represents 174 plaintiffs in the case, said that even if insurance coverage is denied because of Courtney's criminal acts, Courtney pleaded guilty to charges that involved only 34 people. That leaves scores of victims who weren't involved in the criminal case, Ketchmark said.

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