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Eckerd Charged in Drug Complaint

February 4, 1998

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) _ Eckerd Drug Stores was charged Wednesday with bilking the federal and state government out of more than $11 million on 180,000 false prescription claims.

According to a civil complaint, Eckerd employees didn’t fill prescriptions in full when inventories were short, but the company billed Medicaid for full reimbursement.

The lawsuit jointly filed by federal and state prosecutors is an outgrowth of a whistleblower suit filed under seal by an Eckerd pharmacist.

The company planned to answer the charges in a news release, said Dan Pero, vice president of communications for Eckerd.

``Eckerd pharmacists would often provide only a portion of the prescribed drugs and tell the recipient to return in a day or two for the rest,″ Florida Attorney General Bob Butterworth said.

Customers often would not return for the remainder, but Eckerd pocketed the difference in reimbursement for the full quantity, the suit said.

The complaint filed at federal court in Tampa seeks triple the amount of monetary damages and penalties of up to $10,000 for each fraudulent bill submitted by Eckerd.

``The potential penalty amount ... you’d need a computer or calculator with lots of zeroes,″ said Mark Schlein, director of the state’s Medicaid fraud control unit.

The investigation began two years ago after pharmacist Louis H. Mueller alleged fraud under the state’s false health claims act, a spokesman for the attorney general’s office said.

Eckerd, which was purchased last year by Plano, Texas-based J.C. Penney Co. Inc. for $2.6 billion, owns more than 2,800 stores in 23 states, and is Florida’s largest pharmacy chain with 573 stores.

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