Kennewick pharmacist gets 4 years in theft case

Kristin M. Kraemer, Tri-City HeraldDecember 6, 2012 

A Kennewick pharmacist who stole pain medications, then resealed the empty boxes and stocked them with other narcotics, will do four years in federal prison.

U.S. District Court Judge Ed Shea called Kenyon Neal Lyle Jr.'s actions "morally reprehensible" as he handed down the sentence in the Richland federal courthouse.

Lyle, now 31, was working in the Kennewick Safeway store in 2009 when he committed the crimes. He also filled in as needed for a month at the Richland store's pharmacy, where a box of Fentanyl patches later was discovered empty.

Lyle -- who goes by the name Kenny -- pleaded guilty Aug. 10 to two counts of tampering with consumer products and seven counts of obtaining a controlled substance by fraud. Three other charges were dismissed as part of the plea agreement.

The Kennewick man was allowed to remain on release until the Bureau of Prisons designated an appropriate federal correctional institution for him. He was not in custody as of Wednesday, according to the bureau's website.

Shea recommended Lyle be placed in the Sheridan, Ore., prison to participate in a substance-abuse treatment program, according to court records.

He will be supervised for three years after his release from prison.

Lyle was ordered not to use alcohol or illegal controlled substances and to stay away from any establishment -- such as a liquor store or bar -- where alcohol is the primary item of sale, court records show.

A condition of his sentence is that Lyle is "restricted from employment as a pharmacist or any other position that allows access to controlled substances without the advance approval of the supervising probation officer," records show.

Lyle's license was suspended in March 2010 by the state Board of Pharmacy, which said Lyle would pose an "immediate danger to the public health, safety or welfare" if he were allowed to continue to practice as a pharmacist.

The license was revoked Nov. 17, 2011.

He unsuccessfully petitioned the Washington Department of Health for reconsideration, then sought judicial review in Benton County Superior Court. Nothing has happened in the civil matter since March 19, when Lyle's Spokane lawyer filed notice that she no longer represented him.

Lyle was arrested in December 2009 after a Kennewick Police Department investigation based on a complaint by a pharmacy customer. A federal grand jury returned an indictment on him Aug. 20, 2010.

The customer went to police just days after filling a prescription for Fentanyl patches and getting home to find the two boxes empty. She returned to the store and showed the empty boxes to the pharmacy manager, only to be accused of being a liar and trying to get more drugs, Lyle's plea agreement states.

She told investigators she was embarrassed since the exchange occurred in front of other customers, and she ended up going 48 to 72 hours without medication and suffered pain during that time, the agreement states.

The U.S. Attorney's Office for the Eastern District of Washington released a statement saying that from June through September 2009, Lyle tampered with the narcotic drug Fentanyl by opening the manufacturer's box, removing the transdermal patches and re-gluing the box.

He would return the then-empty boxes to a secured narcotics storage cabinet in the pharmacy.

The supervising pharmacist in Kennewick reported finding 12 boxes that were missing patches and had been re-glued, along with the one box in the Richland pharmacy.

Detective Bill Dramis, who led the investigation, also discovered the theft of other controlled substances, such as OxyContin. He was assisted by Special Agent James Burkhardt with the Food and Drug Administration and Investigator Tyler Varnum with the Board of Pharmacy.

Lyle reportedly worked at the Safeway pharmacy for eight months.

The U.S. Attorney's Office statement says Lyle destroyed records to hide the theft of a shipment of Fentanyl, altered existing prescriptions to divert controlled substances and created fake prescriptions for nonexistent pharmacy customers to divert the drugs.

During one search of Lyle's home, police also found unlabeled pharmacy vials.

"When medication is dispensed to the public, we place ourselves completely in the hands of our medical professionals," said U.S. Attorney Michael C. Ormsby, who is based in Spokane. "The public has every right to expect that licensed pharmacists will dispense medication in a safe, effective and proper manner. It is particularly egregious when medication is diverted by the very professionals in whom the public places its trust."

Lyle owes $480 in restitution to Safeway.

His attorney, Jeffry K. Finer, submitted 19 letters from Lyle's wife, parents, brothers and other relatives and close friends for Shea to consider before sentencing.

The letters said in the three years since the investigation began, Lyle has worked to rebuild his life with his wife and baby daughter and was deserving of a second chance.

His wife, Jessica, said Lyle was eager to take on the challenge working as a pharmacist in the Kennewick Safeway less than five months out of college, but said looking back, the stress of extra hours and pressure to make his supervisor proud may have been too much on him.

She questioned how sentencing someone to prison with his disease would help in his rehabilitation and said he has been punished enough by losing his career and finances and being "publicly humiliated" in the media and on the internet.

"The past three years, Kenyon has made an excellent road to recovery. He finished his treatment program through the state without any fallbacks," Jessica Lyle wrote. "He is so remorseful of his past transgressions, I still see days where he can hardly look at himself in the mirror. He is still working on forgiving himself, but with his continuing spiritual growth and me he is working every day toward that forgiveness."

"Kenyon is a very good man who is absolutely no harm to the public," she added. "He is a good member of society and will only bring positive effects to our community."

-- Kristin M. Kraemer: 582-1531; kkramer@tricityherald.com

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