Alleged multistate prescription cough syrup fraud spree halted by St. George authorities

Composite image with background stock photo of Dixie Regional Medical Center and overlay of St. George Police unit, 2018 stock image | St. George News

ST. GEORGE — The alleged criminal activities of a Nevada man who arrived at Dixie Regional Medical Center in St. George to pick up a prescription were put to an end Thursday after an alert pharmacist contacted a police officer stationed at the hospital.

The man, 23-year-old Juan Palacios, was arrested and booked into jail Thursday evening. He faces second-degree felony possession of a false identity document, as well as three third-degree felony charges, including two counts each of unlawful acquisition of a finance card and identity fraud. He also faces one misdemeanor possession of marijuana charge.

The arrest stems from an investigation into possible fraud conducted by St. George Police Officer Ken Childs at Dixie Regional Medical Center involving a prescription for cough medicine with codeine called into the hospital pharmacy.

According to court documents, when the pharmacist contacted the prescriber, they were told that no prescriptions had been issued to anyone using the suspect’s name.

When the suspect arrived at the pharmacy to pick up the prescription, he was approached by police and he identified himself as Palacios, showing them an image of an ID from his phone.

Juan Carlos Palacios, 23, of Las Vegas, Nev., booking photo taken in Washington County, Utah, Oct. 29, 2020 | Photo courtesy of the Washington County Sheriff’s Office, St. George News

When he was told he would be transported to the St. George Police Department for an interview, he asked one of the officers to turn off his car that he left running in the parking lot.

As he approached the vehicle to turn it off, the officer noticed medication packaging through the windows, and when he opened the car door, he was hit with a strong odor of burnt marijuana, according to the probable cause statement written in support of the arrest.

The officer allegedly found multiple medication bottles inside of the car, along with a substance consistent with marijuana. In the passenger compartment, police say the officer found three prescription bottles with packaging indicating they were filled with cough syrup containing codeine.

The fill dates on the bottles revealed they were filled at a number of pharmacies in multiple states over the course of three weeks, including Las Vegas, Nevada; Pasadena, California; and New York. Another pill bottle labeled as oxycodone was filled in Nevada in August.

In the trunk, officers allegedly also found a duffle bag containing eight empty prescription bottles of cough syrup filled in Oakland and San Francisco in California and Waldorf, Maryland.

With the inventory of the car complete, officers searched Palacios, allegedly finding an additional bottle of codeine cough syrup in the front pocket of his jacket.

Officers also found two Visa debit cards belonging to two individuals, neither of whom were the defendant, as well as a California Driver’s License with a photo of Palacios, but under a different name.

The ID had “an appearance inconsistent with a typical ID photo,” the officer noted in the report, leading police to believe it was a fake driver’s license.

Dixie Regional Medical Center in St. George, Utah, date not specified | Stock image, St. George News

While following up with the pharmacies where the medications had been filled, police obtained a matching description of the suspect.

Officers also learned of an incident that took place the previous day, in which Palacios was driven to St. George from Las Vegas, during which time he was overheard calling in prescriptions to a number of pharmacies throughout St. George, providing the same prescriber’s name and DEA number as was given to the hospital.

Further, a number of prescriptions called into pharmacies in Washington County were reportedly picked up by the defendant, evidenced by the number of prescription bottles later recovered from the car, all of which were filled using the same physician’s information that did not authorize or call in the medication.

Moreover, officers say they have reason to believe the suspect is involved in identity fraud, with a forged California Driver’s license and another ID card allegedly recovered that did not belong to the suspect.

Palacios was arrested and booked into jail Thursday evening. Officers requested Palacios be held without bail, as he has no apparent ties to the community, has traveled to multiple states within a short time period and is engaged in crimes of “dishonesty and fraud.” The request was subsequently approved, and he remains in custody at the time of this report.

Copyright St. George News, LLC, 2020, all rights reserved.

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