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Pharmacist pleads guilty to drug thefts from Erie, Pa., veterans home

Flags fly outside the Pennsylvania Soldiers' & Sailors' Home in Erie, Pa.

ERIE TIMES-NEWS/TNS

By MADELEINE O'NEILL | Erie Times-News, Pa. | Published: June 25, 2019

ERIE, Pa. (Tribune News Service) — A former pharmacist at the Pennsylvania Soldiers' & Sailors' Home stole more than 12,000 doses of medication to fuel his own drug addiction, according to information presented at his plea hearing Tuesday in federal court.

James F. Franks, 34, of Union City, pleaded guilty to a felony count of obtaining controlled substances through fraud before U.S. District Judge Susan Paradise Baxter, who accepted the plea and set sentencing for Oct. 15.

Franks, the former chief pharmacist at the Soldiers' & Sailors' Home, faces up to a maximum of four years in federal prison at his sentencing.

There was no evidence Franks redistributed the drugs he stole, Assistant U.S. Attorney Christian Trabold said in court.

Franks admitted he had a drug addiction and said he took the medications for his own use when investigators questioned him in the case, Trabold said.

The medications included 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, among other drugs. He is also accused of altering the manual and electronic prescription drug logs to conceal the theft, according to charging documents.

Franks was expected to enter a plea in the case because the government charged him through what is known as a criminal information. Franks agreed to waive his right to an indictment by grand jury in the case and instead chose to proceed directly to a plea hearing.

The criminal information charged that Franks stole the medications between July 2016 and July 2017. In court Tuesday, Franks said he received inpatient drug treatment beginning in July 2017 and successfully completed additional outpatient treatment in November 2017.

Franks will remain free on $10,000 unsecured bond while he awaits sentencing in the case.

The Pennsylvania Department of Military and Veterans Affairs, which oversees the state-run nursing home for veterans and their spouses, said previously that Franks was terminated from employment at the Soldiers' & Sailors' Home in August 2017.

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