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Washington County sheriff's deputy charged in theft from drug takeback program

The Star Tribune,
BYLINE: Kevin Giles, Reporter | East Metro,
Link to Article

Washington County, MN

The Oakdale man who is facing three felony counts stole prescription pills from drug takeback program, charges say.

A Washington County deputy accused of pilfering prescription drugs from the Sheriff’s Office’s new drug takeback bin was charged Wednesday with three felonies.

Ricky Harry Gruber, 43, of Oakdale, was seen in videotape opening the bin — where the public surrenders old prescription drugs — and then removing several bottles of medications, the complaint said. Later he was confronted by a commander and sergeant and tried to run, but he was arrested and stripped of his service revolver.

Gruber is charged with felony counts of fifth-degree drug possession, theft and concealment of controlled substances. He also was charged with misconduct of a public officer, a gross misdemeanor, and unlawful possession of pharmacy drugs, a misdemeanor.

“My agency’s going to take it on the chin for a while,” Sheriff Bill Hutton said. “I feel terrible, not only for the public but for the other men and women here. They are going to suffer because of the indiscretions of one deputy. I feel sorry for them, and I apologize to the people who entrusted us to do better than we did.”

Hutton started the takeback program to safely dispose of unused and expired prescription drugs before they’re stolen from medicine cabinets and cupboards. Residents can deposit drugs anonymously in a locked bin in the lobby of the Sheriff’s Office in Stillwater and at similar depositories at county service centers in Forest Lake and Cottage Grove.

Hutton defended the program as important to public safety and said the Sheriff’s Office was taking steps to guard against any future internal thefts. He said he spent much of Wednesday talking with departments and reviewing procedures.

Only a few designated deputies have contact with the drugs, which they handle as chain-of-custody evidence and take to disposal plants. Gruber worked in records management and had no authority to unlock the bin or handle drugs from it, the complaint said.

Gruber told investigators that he had found a way to open a locked desk where a key to the bin was kept. A red bag on his desk was found to contain three bottles of pills identified as amoxicillin, hydroxyzine and trazodone. Also in the bag were various pills later identified as lidocaine and tadalafil. Additional illegal pills were found in Gruber’s pickup truck, the complaint said.

None of the drugs involved were powerful painkillers, but 19 phentermine hydrochloride pills were classified as a Schedule 4 controlled substance, leading to felony charges, Hutton said.
Under questioning by Sgt. Andrew Ellickson of the Sheriff’s Office narcotics unit, Gruber admitted to stealing the drugs for personal use and said he had unlocked the drug bin a half dozen times or more, the complaint said. Gruber “claimed that he took many of these items due to a medical condition that was present during times of sexual intimacy,” it said.
Most of the drugs in Gruber’s possession cannot be dispensed without a doctor’s prescription, the complaint said.

Gruber, who had worked for the county since September 1997, “resigned the night we caught him in the act,” Hutton said. “He’s not a person we want working in law enforcement.”
Gruber, who wasn’t in jail, was summoned to appear before Judge Richard Ilkka in Washington County District Court on May 15.

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