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Hernando sheriff announces pill crackdown nets dozens of arrests

BROOKSVILLE — For 16 months, the tiny pharmacy on Mariner Boulevard enjoyed a steady stream of customers who came in looking to get their prescriptions filled.

Most were for powerful narcotics, such as oxycodone, methadone and Xanax. The trouble was, according to Hernando County Sheriff Al Nienhuis, the operators of Glory Pharmacy sold little else besides pills.

"It's surprising they would be so blatant," Nienhuis said at a news conference Friday, where he unveiled the findings of a nine-month undercover operation that resulted in the largest prescription drug crackdown in the agency's history.

Detectives estimate that 97 percent of Glory Pharmacy's sales were for prescription narcotics and that the store was responsible for putting more than 250,000 pills on the street. Most were sold in Florida but some of the sales were made out of state, where the drugs fetched higher prices.

So confident in their increasing prescription drug sales, Glory Pharmacy owners color-coded cash register keys to match the names and colors of the pills they were selling.

The operation so far has netted 53 arrests, including dozens of suspects accused of passing fraudulent prescriptions. Nearly a dozen more suspects are being sought, the agency reported.

But the big targets were Glory pharmacy owners Olubodei Olatunji, 50, and Kehinde "Kenny" Olayisade, 37, who were charged with trafficking in oxycodone. Pharmacist Peter Barone, 55, faces charges of unlawful dispensing of a controlled substance.

Also arrested was Larry Wilson Sr. 55, who faces charges of continuing a criminal enterprise.

Nienhuis said the investigation began with the June 2010 arrest of Wilson in Gainesville, after he had bought 3,000 Xanax, methadone and oxycodone pills from Glory Pharmacy. He was headed to Tennessee to sell the pills, the sheriff said.

An anonymous tip then led vice and narcotics detectives to begin making controlled purchases at the pharmacy.

According to Nienhuis, pharmacy owner Olayisade was eager to make deals on the pills, and that he acknowledged street slang when an undercover detective asked to buy "180 blues," a common street term for oxycodone.

"He would negotiate and say, 'What do you want to pay? Name your price,' " Neinhuis said.

Nienhuis said the pharmacy's customer base for prescription drugs continued to grow, partly due to the efforts of Wilson. The sheriff said Wilson organized more than a dozen people to serve as "walkers," passing fraudulent prescriptions at Hernando mom-and-pop pharmacies, including Glory Pharmacy, Pinebrook Pharmacy and Good Shepherd Pharmacy.

A check of more than 2,200 prescriptions filled at Glory over the past year showed that more than 1,400 were fraudulent, Nienhuis said. However, he said the store's owners never called his department to report any suspicious prescriptions.

Detective Cody Silagyi, who led the investigation, named Operation Glory Daze, said it showed how rampant the prescription drug crisis is in Hernando County.

"It's an epidemic that's not going away soon," Silagyi said. "There's still a lot of work to do."

Nienhuis said he hopes the continuing investigation will help stem the tide of prescription drug use in Hernando County and expects to announce dozens more arrests in months to come.

"We're going to continue to be aggressive," he said.

Logan Neill can be reached at (352) 848-1435 or lneill@sptimes.com.

Hernando sheriff announces pill crackdown nets dozens of arrests 03/11/11 [Last modified: Friday, March 11, 2011 7:10pm]
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