A man partnered with a pharmacy worker to steal $8.2 million worth of HIV medication from a Veterans Affairs branch in New Jersey, federal authorities say.
Now, he faces three and a half years in prison.
Wagner Checonolasco, 34, from Lyndhurst, New Jersey, pleaded guilty to a charge of conspiring to steal government property, federal authorities said in a news release. District Judge Esther Salas imposed the sentence on Feb. 24 in Newark federal court, the release says.
Brooke M. Barnett, Checonolasco’s defense attorney, told McClatchy News that her client was “very loved by his family and within the community.” Barnett said Checonolasco started stealing the drugs to help family members who had AIDS.
“This is about survival,” the attorney said.
Barnett said that while he “broke the law, those are the facts,” Checonolasco had a “pristine record until this incident.”
He targeted the Veterans Affairs Medical Center (VAMC) located in East Orange, New Jersey. The VAMC pharmacy maintained prescription medication, such as medication for the treatment of HIV, authorities say.
According to court documents obtained by McClatchy News, Checonolasco conspired with Lisa M. Hoffman to steal medication from the VA. Hoffman was employed at the VAMC pharmacy, authorities say, and her job responsibilities included ordering the necessary medications.
From early 2018 through 2019, Checolonasco and Hoffman conspired to steal HIV medication from the VAMC, court documents show. Hoffman would place large orders for HIV medication and then steal the treatments for Checolonasco in exchange for “a cash payment,” according to federal agents.
Checolonasco would then proceed to resell the drugs for a profit, investigators said.
During that timeframe, the pair is accused of stealing approximately $8 million worth of HIV medications.
As part of his sentencing, Checonolasco will have to pay restitution in the amount of $8,286,486, court documents show. Hoffman, 48, from Orange, New Jersey, also “pleaded guilty to her role in the scheme and is scheduled to be sentenced on March 9, 2022,” the release says.
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