Robert Ray Courtney|
September 15, 1952
Hays, Kansas, USA
|Alma mater||University of Missouri-Kansas City|
|Criminal charge||Tampering with drugs, adulteration or mislabeling of drugs|
|Criminal penalty||30 years in prison, $25,000 fine, $10.4 million restitution|
Robert Ray Courtney (born September 15, 1952) is an American former pharmacist from Kansas City, Missouri. In 2002 he pleaded guilty to intentionally diluting several doses of chemotherapy drugs and sentenced to federal prison. He is currently serving his sentence at Big Spring Federal Correctional Institution in Big Spring, Texas.
Early life and education
Courtney was born in Hays, Kansas. His father was a traveling minister based in Scott City, and described Courtney as an "ideal son." He played the trombone at Wichita South High School. Courtney graduated from the School of Pharmacy at University of Missouri–Kansas City in 1975.
In 1986, Courtney became the owner of Research Medical Tower Pharmacy in Kansas City, where he had worked for some time. He primarily mixed intravenous drugs. Before his arrest, Courtney served as a deacon at Northland Cathedral, an Assemblies of God megachurch in Kansas City.
In 1992, he and his first wife divorced; Courtney retained custody of their two daughters. His second marriage lasted four or five days and was later annulled. In 1994 his third wife, Laura Courtney, gave birth to twins. In August 2001, the same month he was arrested, Courtney held total assets worth $18.7 million.
In 1990, Courtney began purchasing pharmaceuticals on the gray market and using them to fill prescriptions at his pharmacy. In time he began diluting prescriptions to increase profits. Both practices were illegal.
In 1998, Darryl Ashley, an Eli Lilly sales representative noticed Courtney was selling three times the amount of the cancer drug Gemzar that he'd bought. Lilly initiated an internal investigation but found no evidence of illegality and closed the investigation without further action.
In early 2001, Ashley once again voiced his concerns to a nurse who worked for Dr. Verda Hunter (now Hicks), an oncologist in Courtney's building, who was also one of Courtney's customers. Hunter noticed that many of her patients were only suffering mild side effects, and their condition didn't seem to be improving. Hunter had medication that had been supplied by Courtney tested. That test showed that the sample contained less than one-third of the drug prescribed, and upon receiving the test results back, Hunter immediately notified the FBI.
Federal investigators initially didn't believe that a pharmacist would do something so egregious. However, when Hunter showed them the test results, they realized that she was telling the truth. Hunter submitted seven additional samples for testing by the FDA's forensic chemistry lab. Tests on those samples revealed that they contained as little as 15 percent of the prescribed dosage, and at most only half of it. They immediately knew that they had to move quickly. While health care fraud cases normally take years to build, the investigators knew they didn't have that long.
Investigators believed that Courtney took a base dose of chemotherapy drugs and split it between three prescriptions, then sold them to oncologists for the same price as a full dose. He took advantage of the fact that oncologists are usually concerned mainly with chemotherapy's effects on the body, not the amount of the dose.
Investigators persuaded Hunter to help them in a sting operation. Hunter gave Courtney several prescriptions for fictitious patients. After Courtney mixed the drugs and sent them to Hunter's office, federal agents had them tested. The samples contained less than half of the prescribed dosage, and in some cases contained less than one percent of the active drug. On August 13, 2001; federal agents raided Research Medical Tower Pharmacy. A day later, Courtney surrendered to authorities and was charged with one count of adulterating and misbranding medication. Investigators reported that before turning himself in, Courtney gave $80,000 in cash, and more than 100 doses of Prozac to his wife.
Faced with the evidence, Courtney gave investigators a list of three medications that he diluted, and a list of 34 affected patients. He claimed to have only started diluting drugs a few months ago, a claim no one believed. He openly admitted he did it to pay off a $1 million donation to his church's building fund. On August 23, 2001; Courtney was indicted on 20 counts of tampering with consumer products and adulterating and misbranding drugs. Many patients and survivors wanted him charged with murder, but federal prosecutors believed a murder charge would be hard to prove since many patients were suffering from late-stage cancer.
Courtney also was named as defendant in approximately 300 suits for fraud and wrongful death. In one case a jury awarded the plaintiff, Georgia Hayes, a judgment in the amount of $2.2 billion. Although Hayes knew she would likely never see that money because his assets had been frozen, she wanted to send a message that this type of deceit was not worth the cost.
Facing the prospect of life in prison if convicted at trial, on February 20, 2002, Courtney pleaded guilty to 20 federal counts of tampering and adulterating the chemotherapy drugs Taxol and Gemzar. He also acknowledged that he and his corporation, Courtney Pharmacy Inc., had weakened drugs, conspired to traffic in stolen drugs and caused the filing of false Medicare claims. According to law enforcement estimates, as well as his own confession, from 1992 to 2001 Courtney diluted 98,000 prescriptions from 400 doctors, which were given to 4,200 patients. Courtney admitted to diluting 72 different kinds of drugs. Besides chemotherapy treatments, he admitted diluting medications for diabetes and AIDS patients, as well as fertility treatments. On December 5, 2002, Courtney was sentenced to 30 years in federal prison.
Courtney, Federal Bureau of Prisons inmate number 14536-045, is currently serving his sentence at Big Spring Federal Correctional Institutuon, after starting his sentence at Gilmer Federal Correctional Institution near Glenville, West Virginia. His earliest possible release date is November 20, 2027, when he will be 75 years old.
- Draper, Robert (June 8, 2003). "The Toxic Pharmacist". New York Times. Retrieved August 31, 2010.
- "Thousands of Diluted Drugs". CBS News. April 19, 2002. Retrieved August 31, 2010.
- "Ambition gone awry? The life of Robert R. Courtney". Kansas City Star. September 9, 2001.
- "Deadly Rx For Greed". American Greed (CNBC). 2008. Retrieved August 31, 2010.
- "Did drugmaker know about pharmacist's tampering?". Associated Press. 27 August 2001. Retrieved 12 June 2018.
- "Jury awards plaintiff $2.2B in Courtney case". Kansas City Business Journal. October 11, 2002. Retrieved August 31, 2010.