Two employees of a Kennewick, Washington dental office are accused of pulling off a sophisticated scheme involving at least 167 forged prescriptions.
Nicole Polus and Chareise Raugust, along with her fiance, Miljan Ignjatic, allegedly wrote, called in or picked up fraudulent prescriptions in the Tri-Cities during a four-year period, police said.
"There were so many names ... including fictitious names," Kennewick police Detective Rick Runge told the Herald. "It is just so large, we just went with the suspects' names and family" to try to track the forgeries.
Polus and Ignjatic made their first appearances Thursday in Benton County Superior Court and pleaded innocent to several charges of obtaining a controlled substance through fraud.
Nicole Polus, 40, faces an April 9 trial on eight charges of fraudulently obtaining Lorcet and Vicodin. The charges include the aggravating factor that she used a position of trust to commit the crime. Polus was a dental hygienist in William Craig Stout's dental office.
Chareise Raugust, who was Stout's office manager, pleaded innocent to one count of obtaining a controlled substance -- hydrocodone -- through fraud, with the aggravating factor that she used a position of trust to commit the crime.
She also was in court Thursday. Her trial is April 9.
Kennewick police began investigating the case in September after getting an anonymous tip through Tri-Cities Crime Stoppers claiming that employees at Stout Family Dental were embezzling money, forging prescriptions and providing free dental care.
Runge was assigned to investigate the tip and contacted Stout, who "was shocked, to say the least."
Through the investigation, Runge contacted four pharmacies and found 167 forged prescriptions that had allegedly been authorized by Stout and Navdeep Virk, who owned the dental practice before Stout bought it in October 2010.
Stout bought new software for prescriptions and one suspect was using the old system to write various prescriptions for herself, her husband and other people, Runge said.
He said the other suspect was "just forging prescriptions and calling them in."
According to court documents, Polus called in several unauthorized prescriptions in the name of herself, her relatives, Raugust and Raugust's relatives. Stout and Virk were contacted by police and both said they did not authorize the medications.
Raugust's charge stems from two prescriptions that were called in for her son, Jaden Raugust-Gonzales, documents said.
Raugust-Gonzales told Runge that he asked his mother if she could get him prescriptions for a toothache. She asked Stout, but Stout said he would not approve the prescription unless he was able to see Raugust-Gonzales in the office first, documents said. Raugust-Gonzales never was examined.
Ignjatic is accused of picking up forged prescriptions that had been called in to pharmacies in his name.
Runge credited Tyler Varnum, with the state Board of Pharmacy, with helping him understand the prescription process as he investigated the case. Varnum came to the Tri-Cities twice to go to pharmacies with Runge, he said.
Runge said he traced the scheme back to 2007, but because many fictitious names were used, it was difficult to track them all down to try to connect them back to the suspects.
"Just trying to get a handle on it and tracking all the names" was the biggest challenges to the investigation, he said.
This is not the first time, however, that Polus allegedly called in fraudulent prescriptions. In 2008, she self-reported to the state Department of Health, her employer and police that she called in three unauthorized prescriptions for diazepam, according to Department of Health records.
Polus, who has had a state dental hygiene license since 1997, admitted the violations after the allegations surfaced during her divorce proceeding, records said.
Richland police investigated the prescription fraud allegations between June and December 2005, said Capt. Mike Cobb. It was reported by Polus on June 10, 2008.
The police report was forwarded to the Benton County Prosecutor's Office, but no charges were filed. Benton County Prosecutor Andy Miller said the report indicated that Polus was very cooperative and remorseful, and the statute of limitations had passed.
Polus was, however, placed on a two-year probation by the state Department of Health after she cooperated with the investigation and expressed a "willingness to undergo a substance abuse assessment," records show.
Polus was required to get a drug evaluation and complete a program, if recommended, retake the dental hygienist drug and law exam within six months, and pay a $1,000 reimbursement to the Dental Hygienist Program.
It is not known if Polus followed through with the requirements of her probation, but no other action has been taken against her by the health department, according to online records.
Her dental hygiene license was renewed Oct. 28, 2011.
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