February 10, 2009 in City

OxyContin robberies will continue, police fear

They expect new suppliers to answer street demand
By The Spokesman-Review
 
The Spokesman-Review photo

Ludvik
(Full-size photo)

Drugmaker offers reward

The company that makes OxyContin, Purdue Pharma LP, is offering a reward of $1,000 for information that helps capture suspected pharmacy robber Richard T. Ludvik. Ludvik, 23, is accused of robbing the Walgreens at 2830 S. Grand Blvd. with a knife Jan. 21. According to court papers, police think he also may have been responsible for a robbery 10 days earlier at the Walgreens at 15510 E. Sprague Ave. in Spokane Valley. Anyone with information on Ludvik’s whereabouts is asked to call Crime Stoppers at (800) 222-TIPS or submit tips online at crimestoppersinlandnorthwest.org.

The addictive pull of OxyContin may have led to a monthlong crime spree by a young couple arrested last week on suspicion of robbery, court papers show. And police think it may lead to the emergence of another serial robber.

“If it’s not going to be available on the streets, somebody else, I fear, is going to have to take their place,” said Spokane police Sgt. Joe Peterson. “People are highly addicted to this stuff.”

Police arrested Zachary T. Allen, 19, and Kimberley A. Norman, 20, on Friday in a string of holdups, including four payday loan center robberies and a major OxyContin heist that prompted extra security measures at the loan centers and extra police patrols at pharmacies.

Allen, who police believe acted as the masked gunman, is charged with eight counts of first-degree robbery, and Norman, his girlfriend, faces seven counts after police say she admitted to being Allen’s getaway driver. Police believe they used the stolen cash to buy OxyContin to sell and use.

Two other possible getaway drivers could be arrested this week, Peterson said. Allen and Norman appeared in court Monday, where Spokane County District Court Judge Patti Walker maintained their bail at $500,000 and $300,000, respectively.

While OxyContin addiction has led to elaborate criminal enterprises hatched by urban professionals and middle-aged people, those brazen enough to wave a gun or knife at a pharmacist or clerk and demand the drug are typically young men, said Richard Conklin, a Stamford, Conn., police corporal who works with a program that tracks pharmacy robberies nationally.

Purdue Pharma L.P., the company that makes OxyContin and whose executives admitted to lying about its addictiveness, created the program, called RxPatrol, in 2003.

Six of the seven other people arrested for OxyContin robberies since October in Spokane County have been men under age 27.

OxyContin, a trade name for oxycodone, is an opium-based narcotic that produces a heroin-like high when the time-release capsules are crushed, then injected, snorted or smoked. “It’s the new drug of choice, especially with these young people,” Peterson said.

Unlike methamphetamine, it can’t be manufactured in a homemade lab. Prescriptions and black market sales are the only options, and high prices can translate to desperate addicts and enterprising dealers. A 40-milligram OxyContin pill costs about $5.40 at Bi-Mart but can fetch $30 to $50 on the black market. An 80-milligram pill can go for $80 to $100.

“Being 20 years old, it’s hard to come up with $80 a pill,” Peterson said.

Police informants, high school yearbooks and MySpace postings helped detectives capture Allen and Norman, court papers show.

Detectives honed in on the case after the gunman stayed in a payday loan center for more than 10 minutes waiting for the time-release safe to open, terrifying the clerk, Peterson said.

“He was so over the top in his actions,” Peterson said, adding that police may recommend Allen be charged with kidnapping.

A confidential informant told detectives Thursday about a young man named Zach who lived in Suncrest, used OxyContin and bragged about robbing a payday loan center, court papers show. Police used photos from Lakeside and Shadle Park high school yearbooks to identify Allen and Norman as the man and woman featured on MySpace profiles another tipster had shown police.

Allen and Norman graduated from Shadle Park in 2007. Neither has a criminal record.

The two were arrested Friday evening after Peterson followed them from Allen’s mother’s home on Greenfield Road, north of Nine Mile Falls, to a convenience store at Nine Mile Falls Road and Royal Drive, where police were waiting.

Detectives searched Norman’s 2002 silver Pontiac Grand Am, believed to be the car used in the crimes, and the Greenfield home, where they found drugs, money and clothes worn in the robberies, Peterson said.

Court papers say Allen told police he used a black BB gun that he later threw in Long Lake.

The alleged crime spree began with robberies at the Northwest Food Mart at 5611 N. Driscoll St. on Jan. 8 and Jan. 11, police said Friday. The Check N Go, 6411 N. Division St., was robbed Jan. 14, followed by robberies at Check into Cash at 555 E. Francis Ave. on Jan. 20 and Jan. 29. The Check into Cash at 920 N. Division St. was also hit Jan. 29, and an attempted robbery occurred there Feb. 3.

That attempted robbery occurred less than an hour before a major OxyContin robbery at the ShopKo pharmacy, 9520 N. Newport Highway. Allen went to another payday loan center near a grocery store before hitting ShopKo, but left because police were there, court papers show.

“The frequency that he was doing these was astounding,” Peterson said. “I’m totally convinced that somebody was going to get seriously injured.”

Allen recently joined the Air National Guard and was scheduled to begin training in March, court papers show. He’s lived in the Spokane area his entire life, his lawyer, Jeremy Benson, told the court.

“Mr. Allen has a great deal of family support,” Benson said.

Norman’s parents and grandparents attended Monday’s court hearing and declined to speak with reporters.

The last suspected serial robber arrested in Spokane, Edward A. Saner, spent more than a month in jail on a $400,000 bond before a judge reduced it to $75,000. Saner’s parents sought the reduction so he could attend drug rehabilitation.

The former Eastern Washington University student is accused of six pharmacy robberies last summer.

But his October arrest didn’t curtail the crimes, as Peterson fears will be the case now.

“There’s just going to be more people to take their place,” he said.

Meghann M. Cuniff can be reached at (509) 459-5534 or at meghannc@spokesman.com.

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