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Pharmacists foil alleged drug scam

Suspect apparently tried using phony prescriptions to obtain pain killers.

March 21, 2011|By Joe Piasecki, joe.piasecki@latimes.com
  • Sonal Patel, left, and Belle Cruz of Flintridge Pharmacy & Medical Supply on Friday foiled a customer's plot to buy drugs using phony prescriptions.
Sonal Patel, left, and Belle Cruz of Flintridge Pharmacy…

A woman who allegedly used forged prescriptions to illegally obtain large amounts of opiate pain medication was arrested on Friday morning after quick-thinking employees of a La Cañada Flintridge pharmacy unraveled the apparent scam.

Pharmacist Sonal Patel and pharmacy technician Belle Cruz of Flintridge Pharmacy & Medical Supply said they had become suspicious of multiple prescription drug orders for a single patient last week and after some digging surmised that the orders were coming from a fictitious medical office.

The two pharmacy workers notified the Crescenta Valley Sheriff’s Station, and mid-morning Friday deputies arrested 28-year-old Van Nuys resident Tina Bokazadeh after she arrived to pick up her third bottle of Norco — a derivation of the potentially addictive opiate hydrocodone — that week.

Bokazadeh, who posted bail Monday, is now also being investigated in relation to similar alleged scams throughout the Greater Los Angeles area, possibly including pharmacies in Glendale, said Sheriff’s Sgt. Ray Harley. Harley declined to identify specific stores until completion of the investigation.

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Patel and Cruz said that a caller identifying herself as a nurse first made telephone contact with the pharmacy on Tuesday, providing what appeared to be proper identification numbers for a medical office. Later that day, Bokazadeh picked up a two-week supply of pills and paid for them with a check — closing a routine transaction, or so it appeared until the next day.

“Then on Wednesday that same nurse calls me again and tells me they need to do an emergency surgery [on Bokazadeh] for ovarian cancer, and that they didn’t give her enough of the Norco on Tuesday. That’s when we started getting suspicious. Then on Thursday, around noon, this nurse calls and says she needs one more [two-week] refill. That’s a huge red flag,” Patel said.

After receiving the third call Thursday, Cruz said both nurse and patient started sounding increasingly emotional about Bokazadeh’s health. But as the alleged scammers were spinning their tales of woe, Cruz was already conducting a background check.

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