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Ex-Erie vets home pharmacist charged with stealing drugs

By MADELEINE O'NEILL | Erie Times-News, Pa. (TNS) | Published: May 14, 2019

(TNS) - The former top pharmacist at the Pennsylvania Soldiers' & Sailors' Home is facing a federal felony charge that he stole more than 12,000 doses of medication, including opioids, while working at the state-run veterans nursing home.

The U.S. Attorney's Office in Erie charged James F. Franks, 34, with one count of obtaining a controlled substance through fraud. Charging documents in the case were filed publicly Tuesday morning.

Franks, of Union City, is accused of taking the prescriptions from the Soldiers' & Sailors' Home, 560 E. Third St., between July 2016 and July 2017, while he was working as the chief pharmacist there.

The Soldiers' & Sailors' Home on Tuesday referred questions to Joan Nissley, the communications director for the Pennsylvania Department of Military and Veterans Affairs. The DMVA oversees the home, which provides long-term care for veterans and their spouses.

Franks was terminated from employment at the Soldiers' & Sailors' Home in August 2017, Nissley said in an email.

"We have cooperated fully with law enforcement in this matter," she said.

Franks' wife, reached by telephone, said that he would have no comment.

Franks is charged through what is known as a criminal information, meaning that he has agreed to waive his right to an indictment by a grand jury.

The information charges that Franks obtained doses of medication "by removing the pills from the pharmacy shelves, surreptitiously taking the pills and removing the pills" from the Soldiers' & Sailors' Home. He is also accused of altering the manual and electronic prescription drug logs to conceal the theft, according to the information.

The drugs listed in the information include opioid painkillers such as fentanyl, oxycodone and hydrocodone, and benzodiazepines, including alprazolam, also known by the brand name Xanax, and diazepam, also known as Valium.

Franks is also accused of obtaining androderm, a medicated patch that contains testosterone, among other medications.

Franks is not in custody, according to the documents filed in U.S. District Court in Erie.

The charge of obtaining a controlled substance through fraud carries a maximum possible penalty of four years in prison, according to the documents.

A pharmacy license listed under the name James F. Franks is shown as active on the Pennsylvania Department of State's website. No disciplinary action is listed on the site.

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