Pharmacist arrested, deputy fired over pills

A deputy refuses a drug test and loses his job. His wife had raised suspicions at a local pharmacy.

Published May 23, 2007

The prescriptions: fake.

The patients: nonexistent.

The pills: real, habit-forming, soothing like morphine. Numerous. Nearly 17, 000 of them gone from a pharmacy in 18 months.

It was an unsustainable enterprise.

And when it finally toppled Monday, a deputy sheriff lost his job and a pharmacist went to jail.

This is what happened, according to arrest records, personnel documents, neighbors and a Pasco County sheriff's spokesman:

Matthew and Kimberly Cohen lived in Hudson, in a house with a crescent drive on a corner lot by a cul-de-sac with tall palms and a multilevel fish pond and a lush, green lawn.

Mr. Cohen had been a deputy since 2000. He enjoyed fishing and gardening. His references said he was honest, bright and dependable. Citizens wrote to commend him for his hard work and good cheer.

But he had displeased his superiors. He drove his patrol car with an expired license, arrested someone for no clear reason, wrote slipshod reports. He made worldwide headlines in 2004 for handcuffing a 9-year-old girl accused of stealing a rabbit. Most of all, he was chided for taking too many sick days.

"Not Good!" Sgt. Roy Haynes wrote about Cohen's sick time in a review dated April 10, 2005.

Cohen tried to explain. He said his wife was recovering from health problems that required surgery.

Less than three months later, the pills started disappearing.

Mrs. Cohen had been a licensed Florida pharmacist since 1999. There was no disciplinary action on her record. She worked in the Publix pharmacy at 9850 Little Road in New Port Richey, in a bland-looking room near a shelf full of Imodium and Preparation H.

The fake prescriptions were for hydrocodone, an addictive painkiller sold under brand names like Vicodin and Lortab. Mrs. Cohen used the names of real doctors, but she created two false patient profiles in the Publix computer system. Between July 2005 and January 2007, she wrote nearly 90 fake prescriptions and made off with about 16, 600 pills - or an average of more than 30 a day.

She raised the suspicions of Publix internal security, who forwarded the case to the Pasco County Sheriff's Office. After several months of investigation by narcotics officers, Kimberly Paige Cohen, 33, was arrested Monday and charged with trafficking in a controlled substance. She went free on $5, 000 bail.

So where did all the drugs go?

The authorities said there was no evidence she had sold them. She told investigators she had used some to feed her own addiction, given some to her ailing in-laws and given others to her husband, who had recurring pain from a motorcycle crash.

When Mr. Cohen was interviewed, he denied what his wife said. He was not charged with a crime. But Friday, when the Sheriff's Office asked him to take a drug test, he refused.

He was fired Monday.

"Our deputies need to be above reproach, " spokesman Doug Tobin said.

A reporter visited the Cohens' subdivision Tuesday. The neighbors said they were good, hard-working people, and that Mrs. Cohen had just had a baby.

The reporter knocked on the Cohens' door. A woman came out. She declined to identify herself, but she was holding an infant.

The reporter showed her a piece of paper that held a summary of the allegations.

Would the family like to respond?

"I'm going to call the attorney, " she said. "I'll be right with you."

She went inside and stayed for a minute or two. She came back, still holding the baby, who wore a red sleeper suit.

"The statement is incorrect, and otherwise we have no comment, " she said, ready to go inside, but already another reporter was strolling up the front walk.

Times researcher Lea Iadarola contributed to this report. Thomas Lake can be reached at tlake@sptimes.com or toll-free at 1-800-333-7505, ext. 6245.