Pharmacy giant Walgreens has agreed to pay $7.5 million to settle a consumer protection lawsuit, accusing the company of allowing a phony pharmacist to handle over 745,000 prescriptions. The lawsuit was filed and settled on Monday jointly by the Alameda County and Santa Clara County District Attorneys’ Offices in Alameda County Superior Court.
The settlement comes just over a year after the Mercury News revealed a California State Board of Pharmacy investigation alleging Walgreens stores in Fremont, Milpitas and San Jose allowed Kim Thien Le to perform pharmacist duties for more than a decade without ever having a pharmacist’s license.
During Le’s more than 15 years as both an intern pharmacist and a pharmacist, she handled more than 100,000 prescriptions for controlled substances such as oxycodone, fentanyl, morphine, and codeine, officials said.
“Walgreens failed to vet Ms. Le thoroughly when it promoted her to positions requiring a license and failed to make sure that its internal systems were strong enough to prevent an employee from evading them,” a statement from the Alameda County District Attorney’s Office said.
After the state investigation began, Walgreens “undertook a re-verification of the licenses of all our pharmacists nationwide,” Walgreens spokesman Jim Cohn said in an email.
He also noted that Le’s employment with the company ended in October 2017, but did not offer further comment on the settlement, which had been under negotiation between prosecutors and the company.
Under the settlement, Walgreens will also be required to create a verification program, post proof that all of its employees are licensed if their position requires one, conduct annual audits, and submit an annual compliance report to the Alameda County DA’s office, Lin said.
This settlement is not the first legal fallout since the revelations about the investigation came to light.
The California Attorney General’s office in July charged Le with false impersonation, identity theft and obtaining money, labor or property by false pretenses. The case is still pending in Alameda County courts. Le has pleaded not guilty to all charges.
The Walgreens stores involved could have received a range of disciplines for their part in the case, from a reprimand up to suspension or revocation of their pharmacy licenses, officials said previously.
But Becerra’s office ultimately required Walgreens to pay a $335,000 civil penalty and $19,500 to cover the Department of Justice’s investigation costs, and to admit to the truth of the claims in the state board’s investigation, according to State Board of Pharmacy documents reviewed by this news organization.
Teresa Drenick, a spokeswoman for the Alameda County DA’s office, said of the $7.5 million settlement money from Walgreens, the two DA’s offices will split roughly $250,000 to cover investigative costs, while about $250,000 will go to the state’s Consumer Protection Trust.
The remaining $6,992,500 is evenly divided between the two DA’s offices to be used for consumer protection and enforcement in the future.