An upstate New York prosecutor who charged a Florida pharmacy in 2007 with selling anabolic steroids to pro athletes and entertainers is being sued for $75 million by the pharmacists, who claim defamation and false arrest with their indictments now dismissed in criminal court.
Albany County District Attorney P. David Soares made headlines when he accompanied federal and state agents in a raid at Signature Pharmacy in Orlando and charged its operators with illicit sales of performance-enhancing drugs.
Those charges have been dismissed twice by Albany County Judge Stephen Herrick — most recently citing a conflict of interest with Soares because of the pending federal civil suit — and neighboring district attorneys declined to take the case. Herrick has appointed a private attorney as special prosecutor to again consider charges.
U.S. District Judge Gregory Presnell in Orlando ruled in June that he doesn’t know if Signature violated any New York law or even if the arrest warrants from New York were valid since they were based on the first in a series of indictments that was no longer in effect during the Feb. 27, 2007, raid and arrests.
Soares and his deputy, Christopher Baynes, who is also being sued, have appealed the federal judge’s decision to permit the civil suit. An appeals ruling could take months.
In the civil suit claiming false arrest and defamation, Presnell refused to grant the prosecutors immunity that would normally apply when doing their jobs.
“They were a thousand miles from their jurisdiction and were participating in — indeed, Soares was purportedly ‘commanding’ — a law enforcement raid on Signature’s premises,” Presnell wrote, saying the prosecutors’ focus appeared to be getting press attention. “Even assuming that they had some authority to execute or participate in the execution of Florida search warrants, Soares and Baynes had no judicial business in Florida.”
Soares in 2008 said authorities had been able “to disrupt a multimillion-dollar criminal enterprise trafficking illegal steroids to thousands of people across the country.” He said the focus was distributors, not clients, and declined to publicly confirm the names of prominent athletes believed to be clients.
More recently, Soares’ office has repeatedly declined to comment on the case, except a brief statement that Herrick’s decision last month to throw out the latest indictment and bar Soares from the prosecution “undermines the criminal justice system.”
Albany prosecutors met with representatives from the Mitchell Commission investigating the use of performance-enhancing drugs in Major League Baseball in 2007. Soares said they also worked for months with National Football League officials.
In June, Presnell ordered the return of Signature’s records and inventory, saying prosecutors overstepped their bounds in taking everything.
Attorney Amy Tingley said the drugs had expired and while Signature did remain open after the raid, it never recovered. It formally closed its pharmacy operations in late 2008. Her clients were arrested publicly, spent a week in jail and were flown to Albany before posting bail. Three have gone to work for another pharmacy, and two are not working, she said.
A business evaluation filed last year in federal court estimated damages for the pharmacy’s lost value at $27.2 million and lost profits at $48.5 million.
“These individuals, like Judge Presnell said, they have not been convicted of anything,” Tingley said. “They stand here today, as they had on day one, proclaiming their innocence.”
Within two years of the raid, 17 other people pleaded guilty to drug and conspiracy counts in Albany, including operators and employees of several distributors that did business with Signature, as well as four doctors or former doctors who wrote prescriptions.
Soares maintained it was illegal in New York for a doctor to prescribe drugs without examining the patient in person and illegal for a pharmacy to dispense drugs without a valid prescription.