Phoney Emails Catch LA Times and San Diego Reader in Hoax About San Diego US Attorney Targeting Pharmacies

by on July 31, 2012 · 6 comments

in Government

A hoax has caught both the LA Times and the San Diego Reader in a bind. Both newspapers carried stories today – July 31st – that US Attorney General Laura Duffy was now targeting pharmacies in San Diego for illegal drug sales.

But it was all a hoax perpetrated via two phoney emails sent out to media outlets under Duffy’s name, title and office.

The false email opened with this:

United States Attorney Laura E. Duffy today announced enforcement actions against local pharmacies for distribution of drugs for illegal purposes. Immediate enforcement will target pharmacies in the Coastal areas of La Jolla, Carmel Valley, and Pacific Beach; chosen for both the high rates of pharmaceutical drug abuse and high property values of targeted pharmacies. Affected pharmacies will have 45 days to shutdown in order to avoid harsher penalties.

The LA Times ran this headline: 20 San Diego pharmacies targeted by feds in drug sales crackdown. The San Diego Reader also ran an article about it.

Here’s the original LA Times story:

Twenty pharmacies in San Diego suspected of unusually high rates of drug sales are being targeted for a variety of enforcement actions, U.S. attorney Laura Duffy announced Tuesday.

The pharmacies, including some owned by major chains, are in the La Jolla, Carmel Valley and Pacific Beach areas of San Diego, Duffy said.

The enforcement actions will include civil forfeiture lawsuits, warning letters to pharmacy owners and criminal charges. Some will be given 45 days to shut down or face harsher penalties, Duffy said. The specific pharmacies are expected to be announced later Tuesday.

The pharmacies “are part of a pervasive for-profit industry that facilitates the distribution of drugs for illegitimate use,” Duffy said in a prepared statement.

Other pharmacies may be included later, officials said.

Duffy said she hopes the action by her office becomes a model for other U.S. attorney offices.

“Prosecutorial discretion means I decide how and when to enforce laws,” she said.

Then at 10:50 a.m. this morning, the Times ran a correction and stated:

An earlier version of this post was based on erroneous information from two phony news releases, which were apparently part of a hoax, according to U.S. Atty. Laura Duffy.

“This office did not issue those press releases. We are looking into the source of the emails,” Duffy said in a statement.

Now the Times is calling it “an elaborate hoax” and reported:

The announcement was on letterhead similar to that of the U.S. attorney’s office and provided a telephone number for reporters to call for additional information. The man answering that number identified himself as an assistant U.S. attorney and praised the crackdown as “novel and bold.” The Times and other news organizations reported the “crackdown.”

The mighty LA Times wasn’t the only one fooled by the phony emails. Dorian Hargrove at the Reader also believed the falsities and ran a story.  Hargrove also ran a retraction and cited the original phoney email:

***OFFICE OF THE UNITED STATES ATTORNEY SOUTHERN DISTRICT OF CALIFORNIA San Diego, California United States Attorney Laura E. Duffy For Further Information, Contact: Assistant U.S. Attorney Frank Shiner (619) 619-302-5235

For Immediate Release

UNITED STATES ATTORNEY PUTS PHARMACY OPERATORS AND PROPERTY OWNERS ON NOTICE

Curbing illegal drug use via shutdowns will keep communities safe.

NEWS RELEASE SUMMARY – July 31, 2012 United States Attorney Laura E. Duffy today announced enforcement actions against local pharmacies for distribution of drugs for illegal purposes. Immediate enforcement will target pharmacies in the Coastal areas of La Jolla, Carmel Valley, and Pacific Beach; chosen for both the high rates of pharmaceutical drug abuse and high property values of targeted pharmacies. Affected pharmacies will have 45 days to shutdown in order to avoid harsher penalties.

The Pharmaceutical shutdown initiative is aimed at curtailing drug abuse and its associated societal problems in the Southern District of California. Enforcement is proceeding against twenty pharmacies in San Diego County and will include actions such as: Civil forfeiture lawsuits against properties involved in drug trafficking activity, which includes, in some cases, sales consistent with state or local ordinances; Letters of warning to the owners and lienholders of properties where potentially illegal sales are taking place; and Criminal cases targeting commercial pharmaceutical activities.

“These pharmacies are not only about providing medicine to the sick. They are part of a pervasive for-profit industry that facilitates the distribution of drugs for illegitimate use. Doctors are prescribing unneeded medication; kids are overdosing on aspirin; police are finding pill bottles at junior high schools. Addiction and abuse of these drugs are serious problems in our communities and parents have come to me with their concerns. These pharmacies have provided not just medication – prescription and otherwise – but all the serious repercussions that come with it, including significant public safety issues and often irreparable harm to our youth.” said Duffy.

The Southern District of California will be the first in the nation to confront the problems associated with drug abuse by targeting storefront pharmacies with asset forfeiture proceedings. The operation will also be a model of fiscal discipline as asset forfeiture may render enforcement efforts cost-neutral.

If successful in San Diego, Duffy’s office will lobby for the implementation of this policy throughout the United States.

“Prosecutorial discretion means I decide how and when to enforce laws. Although this action is unprecedented, in my judgment it’s necessary to ensure we continue making progress in the war on drugs. Economic decline, climate threats, cybercrime, illegal immigration, and a general loss of faith in the political process have colored these drastic times. Now is the time to get tough in a fiscally responsible way.” Duffy stated.

Asset forfeiture is the seizure of property found to have been used for an illegal purpose. The tactic has been used to nearly end access to medical marijuana in San Diego. In 2011, the Southern District of California seized $29.7 million in property using asset forfeiture.

Though initially only twenty pharmacies will be targeted for closure, the office of the United States Attorney for the Southern District of California will continue to investigate facilities which illegally provide dangerous substances to our communities. For Press Inquiries contact: Frank Shiner, Deputy Assistant to the US Attorney, Logistics and Narcotics (619) 302-5235***

One can excuse the Reader due to its lack of enough resources to have checked out this story before running something, but the LA Times??!!

Our post here is not satire, but the phoney emails could be classified as satire. phony phoney

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A lawyer and grassroots activist, I was finally convinced by Patty Jones to start the OB Rag, a blog of citizen journalists, after she got tired of listening to my rants about the news. Way back during the Dinosaurs in 1970, I founded the original Ocean Beach People’s Rag - OB’s famous underground newspaper -, and then later during the early Eighties, published The Whole Damn Pie Shop, a progressive alternative to the Reader.
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avatar doug porter July 31, 2012 at 2:10 pm

From the Twitter hotline (via Dave Maass) comes news that Americans for Safe Access/Canvass for a Cause is now taking credit for this hoax. Admits collaborating with Yes Men.

avatar Tom Cairns July 31, 2012 at 9:10 pm

In the best tradition of Jerry and Abbie. Yippee!

avatar Dave Rice July 31, 2012 at 10:03 pm
avatar Andy Cohen July 31, 2012 at 11:47 pm

Seriously, this guy has issues. This wasn’t satire. This was just plain dumb. Nothing more than a personal vendetta. Duffy may indeed be the Wicked Witch of the West, but there had to be a better way to go about this.

I hope he enjoys his stay in the federal hospitality system.

avatar Frank Gormlie August 1, 2012 at 8:01 am

Eugene Davidovich and the Americans for Safe Access have made their point: the crack-down headed up by Duffy is full of hypocrisy and is in direct conflict with the will of California voters. Eugene may have been a tad edgy here and no doubt Laura will use everything in her arsenal to go after him. But we’re not all in agreement with you here, Andy – this was a great prank and the fact that certain media fell for it – like the LA Times – is huge.

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