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Pharmacist faces charges

By Jay Hamburger, OF THE RECORD STAFF

Federal authorities on Wednesday arrested a Park City pharmacist on charges that he that he was seeking money from insurance companies for medicines that were not prescribed. Thomas Strebel, 60, faces charges of insurance fraud, witness tampering and extortion, according to Brent Robbins, a special agent in the FBI’s Salt Lake City office. The insurance fraud count is a second-degree felony and the two other counts are third-degree felonies.

Strebel was booked into Summit County Jail. He was released on a combined $20,000 bail, the jail said.

The FBI claims that Strebel, from Park City Pharmacy on Bonanza Drive, submitted requests for reimbursement from insurance companies for drugs that were not prescribed.

In 2004, the FBI alleges, Strebel once billed an insurer 55 times for what is described as a "very expensive" asthma medicine that the patient never used. The charges totaled $27,000, Robbins said. He said a customer discovered billing inconsistencies and cooperated with the authorities.

He said that Strebel tried to bribe a woman with money to not report the billing to the authorities. He said Strebel offered the woman $1,000. Robbins claims that several insurance companies were defrauded but declined to identify them.

"Fraud in the insurance industry is humungous," he said.

Robbins said the authorities have received additional complaints against the pharmacy about apparent fraudulent billing since the charges were publicized in the media.

Park City Pharmacy remained open and continued to fill prescriptions, a pharmacist there said. Strebel was not at the pharmacy on Friday.

The state pharmacy board plans to review Strebel’s standing at a meeting on Oct. 31, Clark Caras, a spokesman for the state Commerce Department said. The Commerce Department oversees the Department of Professional Licensing, the state division that licenses pharmacists. It is being referred to as an emergency suspension meeting, a likely reference to a license. Caras said such meetings are rarely called.

Caras said the Oct. 31 meeting will be partially open to the public. Caras said the board will decide whether to suspend Strebel’s pharmacist license. Strebel can continue to serve as a pharmacist in the meantime, Caras said.

Strebel first appears in state records in 1988, when he renewed his pharmacist license, Caras said, but it is unclear how long he has practiced in Utah.

Park City Healthcare, a clinic that shares the building with the pharmacy, on Thursday distanced itself from Strebel and the pharmacy. Brock L. Place, the administrator at Park City Healthcare, said there is not a business relationship between the clinic and the pharmacy and that the clinic does not refer patients to the pharmacy to fill prescriptions.

"We have nothing to do with Mr. Strebel," Place said. "We hope there is no negative effect, given that patients have a correct understanding. There’s always the fear a patient may connect us."

Place said the clinic was operating normally.

"For us, it’s business as usual," he said.

The charges mark the second time in seven years that the pharmacy has become entangled in legal problems. In the late 1990s, two pharmacists with ties to the Park City Pharmacy were sentenced to prison for a pharmaceutical-smuggling scheme that brought unapproved prescription medications to Utah from Mexico.


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