Arrests made in bust of drug ring agents say spanned 1,500 miles

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KISSIMMEE, Fla. - Federal drug enforcement agents raided a pharmacy in downtown Kissimmee Thursday in a bust authorities said is connected to an oxycodone trafficking ring involving Florida, Massachusetts and Puerto Rico.

Pharmacy technician Francisca Maria Paez, 27, was arrested at Encore Pharmacy as police began bringing out boxes of evidence.

WFTV learned the owner of the pharmacy, Jose Paez, was recently sentenced for tax evasion and health care fraud.

The property owner, Tim Majors, said he didn't know about Paez's past.

"As a property owner, [I'm] very surprised. You don't usually associate these things with downtown Kissimmee," he said.

Court documents state Jose Paez filed false Medicare claims that added up to nearly $1 million.

Authorities said Jose Paez manufactured prescriptions, forged doctors' signatures and altered signed prescriptions by changing the name of the patient.

The prescriptions were for a breathing aid medication, but investigators found the pharmacy was not actually buying that medication.

Authorities said the ring was sophisticated and the ringleaders in Palm Bay flew people from Puerto Rico to Miami, where the Puerto Ricans would go to pain clinics and get oxycodone prescriptions, authorities said.

They then got those prescriptions filled at Encore Pharmacy in Kissimmee and shipped the drugs to Massachusetts, where they sold them for $35 a pill.

The pills sell for twice as much in Massachusetts since they are harder to get than in Florida, authorities said.

In all, the group distributed an estimated 35,000 pills to Massachusetts last year, according to investigators.

They estimate the operation had been pulling in more than a million dollars a year since 2010.

The ringleaders thought they could get around Florida's prescription drug monitoring program by bringing people in from Puerto Rico, authorities said.

It was the Palm Bay Police Department that caught on to what was happening and ultimately exposed an operation that spanned 1,600 miles, authorities said.

"In their mind (operators of the ring) thought they were beating that, but the PDMP was integral early on," said Jeffrey Walsh of the Drug Enforcement Agency.

Francisca Paez is one of 36 people being charged in the large operation, authorities said.