Section: Capital Region,  Page: D7

Date: Friday, October 10, 2008

ORLANDO -- Five operators of an Orlando pharmacy have filed a lawsuit alleging their rights were violated by law enforcement officials in Albany and central Florida when they were raided in 2007 on the strength of indictments by an Albany County grand jury.

The court action seeks unspecified money damages from the Albany County district attorney's office and the city of Orlando. The suit was filed in Orange County, Fla., by Signature Pharmacy, Inc.; owners Robert and Michael Loomis, who are brothers and pharmacists; Robert Loomis' wife, Naomi, a pharmacist; and two managers, Kirk Calvert and Anthony Palladino.

"We are not going to comment on the allegations," said Robert J. Stovash, an Orlando attorney who filed the suit. "The plaintiffs are going to handle themselves in this matter with professionalism and dignity."

Among the suit's allegations are that Signature Pharmacy employees were illegally detained during the multi-agency raid; that members of the Albany County district attorney's office conducted a smear campaign of Signature's business practices; and that the arrests were illegal.

The court papers list as defendants Albany County District Attorney David Soares, an assistant district attorney, a state Health Department investigator, and an agent with Orlando's Metropolitan Bureau of Investigation.

Felony indictments against the pharmacy operators were dismissed in Albany last month by Albany County Court Judge Stephen W. Herrick for procedural violations. Seventeen other defendants, including doctors and wellness center operators, had pleaded guilty to felonies.

The suit was filed as a separate federal grand jury investigation of Signature Pharmacy is underway in Florida, according to the Palm Beach Post.

The 36-page lawsuit accuses Soares and others involved in the prosecution of overstepping their authority and of the "decimation of Signature's business, the decimation of the reputations of the individual plaintiffs, and the violations of Signature's and the individual plaintiffs' rights."

Four doctors who pleaded to felony charges in Albany admitted signing prescriptions for patients in Albany County they never evaluated or met, and only for money. They said there was no valid medical need for the prescriptions, which were filled by Signature Pharmacy.

Mae A. D'Agostino, an attorney hired by Albany County to defend the lawsuit, said the county plans to "vigorously defend this case. ... These kinds of lawsuits are not that rare against prosecutors."

The investigation ignited the professional sports world and led to the discipline of pro wrestlers, NFL figures and Major League Baseball players, including several who admitted obtaining prescriptions for steroids or other performance-enhancing drugs from Signature pharmacy.

Many of the athletes and other customers told investigators they obtained their drugs through wellness clinics whose operators also pleaded guilty to felony charges, admitting they funneled phony prescriptions to Signature Pharmacy, and that pharmacy employees knew what was taking place.