The day Police raided IHRB

The day Police raided IHRB

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A funny thing happened just before NSW Police raided the offices of IHRB. I had been liaising with the Health Care Complaints Commission (HCCC) and a range of other Authorities including the TGA and the probing reporter Mr David Richardson of Channel Seven’s ‘Today Tonight’. After several letters, calls, and forms being filled in, I waited to see if Mr Cohen would behave himself. Would he show an ounce of respect? Some time had passed, and this website had given Mr Sam Cohen ample clues that he was being watched. I had published many articles that ought to have alerted Mr Cohen about the depth of knowledge I was accumulating about how he was breaking the law. Sadly, it was like water off a duck’s back. Mr Cohen showed no fear, and continued to disregard the law and his clients’ safety, notwithstanding his flagrant disregard to fair and honest trading.

367 days after two Police units were called to his office (one unit for him and one as a result of me calling 000 for assistance after Mr Cohen’s behaviour was getting out of hand) Mr Cohen sold three prescription-only medications to a client who had no prescription. Those medications included Loniten and Proscar which were not approved for hair growth. No warnings were given to the client. It was an illegal sale which Mr Cohen later said did not take place; accusing the client of having stolen the medications. Alas, audio surveillance now proves that Mr Cohen lied to the Commission. (By the way, even if the client had had a prescription, it would still have been illegal for Mr Cohen to have sold those medications. It was also illegal that he should have had them in his office!)

That was the last straw. Mr Cohen was a danger to society. The client to whom he had sold those medications was one who had previously suffered so badly at the hands of Mr Cohen, that the client had to present to Sydney Hospital’s Emergency Unit after his head filled with pimples that were filled with blood. That client is now bald, and has never been afforded a refund as was promised.

The HCCC began to interview a range of clients. The Director of Investigations, along with his Senior Investigator came to my home to interview me and to retrieve a bag of evidence. At the same time, two investigators from the TGA (Therapeutic Goods Administration) from Canberra also came to my home. All four Investigators ploughed through my evidence, and asked me a lot of questions. Then they went and spoke with the Police. It was supposed to have been a simple case of Police assistance to obtain a Search Warrant. Interestingly, day by day, as the evidence was proving to be increasingly alarming, the Police changed direction. The matter escalated to such a degree, that the Police was no longer satisfied with providing basic assistance to HCCC. They now wanted to take-over and take the lead, because they were concerned about the role that IHRB was playing; evidence pointed to IHRB being in possession of non-approved dangerous drugs, as per allegations that Mr Cohen was hoarding drugs in large quantities. The Police knew that IHRB and Sam Cohen were not licensed to be in possession of such drugs. At the same time, HCCC knew that the drugs were not approved by the TGA or the FDA, and that Mr Cohen was not licensed in any way whatsoever.

D-DAY

By the time the jigsaw pieces were in place, and Channel 7 had poised itself to film the raid, it was 22 September 2010. That’s 387 days from the time I told Mr Cohen that I will be taking the matter further. He did not believe me. He had underestimated my patience. Police units converged on 105 Pitt Street Sydney. With them were Senior Investigators from the HCCC. On stand-by was an Officer from the Pharmaceutical Services Branch of NSW Health (PSB).

I had known about all this for a long time. Simultaneously, I was taking legal action against Sam Cohen at CTTT. I had issued several Summonses. Mr Cohen and I were at CTTT exactly seven days prior to the raid. He had fronted with his solicitor. Mr Cohen was desperately trying to resist the Summonses that required them to furnish information that they knew would have put him in a checkmate position. Shortly prior to that, Mr Cohen had sent me a cheque for $3700, this was 383 days after I had launched proceedings. I recall sitting at CTTT, while my opponents were making a fuss about my having cashed that cheque. Technically and strategically, it would have been much better if I had not cashed it. It made it seem to CTTT that I had accepted the refund, and that my request to amend my claim to include costs appeared to have been weakened because it seemed that I had somehow accepted the payment as a form of settlement. What no-one in that room knew, and what I could not divulge, was that within a matter of days, the Police would raid Sam’s office. I had cashed the cheque because I felt that Mr Cohen would have cancelled it the moment he found out that I was behind the raid. So I had to keep mum about my strategy and take it on the chin. My opponents walked out thinking that they had scored a victory, while I was thinking that it was best I keep my cake-hole shut, lest I spoil the surprise.

Then, six days before the raid, I was at CTTT again, this time providing moral support to Philip during his first hearing. That was when Mr Cohen made his first death threat against me. It was a most unpleasant and chilling experience. I did not utter a single word. I did not even cough. I did not even look at the man. I just sat still while Mr Cohen was staring at me like some Mafia boss from a gangster movie, arms outstretched across the backs of chairs either side of him. It was vulgar and foul. I kept reminding myself that I could not do or say anything that would jeopardise the effectiveness of the Police raid. Besides, I had no proof of his death threat at that stage, and if I had reported it, Mr Cohen would most certainly have denied it, considering he does not hesitate to lie at CTTT and to fabricate documents to support his lies.

After some false starts and delayed action, and a few days lost due to technicalities and legalities and questions of jurisdiction, as well as police logistics of assembling the squad, the balmy Wednesday of 22 September 2010 came, and Police units and HCCC Investigators descended upon 105 Pitt Street in Sydney to execute the Search Warrant on the Institute of Hair Regrowth & Beauty on Level Five. Mr Cohen was there as ‘police and commission investigators located and obtained a large quantity of medications including minoxidil solutions [up to 15%], proscar and loniten.’ Police began to fill their evidence bags with 125 bottles of Minoxidil of various concentrations, and started to take stacks of items down to the paddy wagon. The bottles did not have client names on them, even though they ought to have done. This further proves my previous story that Mr Cohen peels the pharmacy labels in order to on-sell the medications to other unsuspecting clients who go to him, like I did, without a prescription, and walk out with medications that should never have been sold in such an illegal and irresponsible fashion (I had no idea that I was being sold anything other than herbal products). Police and HCCC Investigators also found packets of Loniten and Proscar. Documentation was taken relating to how IHRB had purchased and later sold the medications. 117 client prescriptions were also found, as well as 581 client treatment/record cards on which Mr Cohen had noted which medications he had supplied to which client.

Placed at the reception desk of Mr Cohen’s office was a bag, ready to be picked up by a courier to go to a client. The client’s name and address on the bag did not match the names on the medications inside. This was proof positive of how Mr Cohen operates — selling medications dispensed for one person, to another person, which is exactly what he did to me, even though I had no doctor’s prescription. Caught red-handed, and caught in the act, and there was proof. Investigators did not stop there. They visited Sam Cohen’s second pharmacist and began a thorough investigation of what the pharmacist had supplied. They served a notice on the pharmacist and obtained dispensing records for Loniten, Proscar, and Minoxidil. An Officer from the Pharmaceutical Services Branch of NSW Health had accompanied HCCC Investigators. The PBS Officer located ‘…a large quantity of compounded medication, namely 24 x 100 ml bottles of minoxidil of varying concentration. The Minoxidil was labelled “made in accordance with IHRB specifications”. None of the bottles contained client details and the pharmacist did not have prescriptions for these medications.’

Mr Cohen had used several pharmacists. The attention was turned onto the second pharmacist who rues the day he met Mr Cohen. Two days after serving that second pharmacist with a notice, Investigators returned with a Search Warrant to take a closer look at the pharmacy. During the search, ‘… Commission investigators located a folder which contained 47 prescriptions and ordering-records from IHRB.’ Computer records were also obtained. That pharmacist is still trying to clear his name with the NSW Pharmacy Board. [UPDATE: That pharmacist has since been de-registered.]

Three days later, on the 27th of September 2010, the Commission made an Interim Prohibition Order in relation to Mr Cohen and IHRB. That was for an eight-week period, to expire 22 November 2010. Meanwhile, on the 27th of October 2010, the pharmacist was interviewed by Commission Investigators. Mr Samuel Faraj Cohen was interviewed for approximately five hours by Commission Investigators on the 12th of October, and again he gave evidence to the Commissioner, Mr Kieran Pehm, on the 10th of December 2010. Not only was it noted by the Investigators that none of the Minoxidil bottles had any client names on them, but also that no warnings or advisory information sheets were with the bottles or on the bottles. Investigators also found that none of the bottles had an expiry date.

HOARDING PRESCRIPTIONS

Subsequent investigations found that IHRB had been hoarding prescriptions. For example, Client-1 had obtained a prescription dated 2 December 2009, but that actual prescription was not dispensed until 9 August 2010 (8 month gap).

Client-2 obtained a prescription on 17 October 2009, but the actual prescription was not dispensed until 21 May 2010 (7 month gap).

Client-3 obtained a prescription on 14 September 2009, but the actual prescription was not dispensed until 7 May 2010 (8 month gap).

Clients 4, 5, and 6, showed that their prescription was not presented until after gaps of 7,9, and 8 months respectively.

Client-7 obtained a prescription for Proscar 21 February 2008. Mr Cohen supplied the client three times, being 5 June 2008, 14 June 2008, and 14 May 2008, yet the prescription was never used and was found whole at IHRB.

The 22-page report noted, ‘The evidence is that Mr Cohen obtains medications in bulk and on prescription for different clients than those to whom he provides it.’

TAMPERING WITH DOCTORS’ PRESCRIPTIONS

The Commission interviewed two doctors. The first one said that he had issued a prescription for only 6 bottles, yet the Commission later found that the prescription had been altered to 16 bottles. Another doctor had said that he had only prescribed 1 bottle, but the Commission found that the prescription had been altered to 12 bottles.

THE COMMISSIONER’S FINDINGS

The Commissioner Mr Kieran Pehm said [with my own emphasis added in red], ‘I am satisfied that it was Mr Cohen’s common practice to supply prescription-only medication to clients from medication he had obtained under the prescriptions for other clients.’ Further, the Commissioner added, ‘Mr Cohen’s evidence as to the extent of this practice was self-serving and unreliable. His initial evidence was that this occurred rarely, and, in response to the numerous examples produced to him he conceded that he had engaged in the practice to the extent of those examples but denied that it was common practice. The Commission is in possession of evidence which suggests that this was the common practice of Mr Cohen.’

The Commissioner also said that some irregularities were ‘consistent with Mr Cohen’s general cavalier approach to the use of prescription medication…

The Commissioner noted in his report that ‘…Mr Cohen was not a reliable witness…‘. He added, ‘I am satisfied that Mr Cohen not only failed to advise clients that loniten was not approved by the TGA and DFA (USA) for hair regrowth but also advised at least one client, probably more, that it was so approved.’

On the question of whether Mr Cohen’s conduct was a risk to public health and safety, the Commissioner noted that for Mr Cohen, ‘…it was becoming his practice to treat prescription medication as one of the tools of his trade and to use it in the most expedient and profitable way. He maintains control over his clients’ use of such medication by marketing it in conjunction with his own hair loss remedies. While the process may be convenient to clients, it allows Mr Cohen to provide the medication as his own treatment.

Mr Pehm also said, ‘…Mr Cohen has become casual about the way in which this medication is provided to his clients. This has resulted in him providing prescription-only medication to clients without their prescriptions being filled and without adequate explanation of the side effects. This is both in breach of the law designed to ensure that medications with harmful effects are handled by properly qualified people and a risk to the health and safety of Mr Cohen’s clients.’

The Health Care Complaints Commission’s able Commissioner Mr Kieran Pehm concluded, ‘…I find that Mr Cohen has breached… the Code of Conduct… in that he has failed to provide health services in a safe and ethical manner… and that his conduct poses a risk to the health and safety of the public…’

Permanent Prohibition Orders were made 22 February 2011.

ABOUT COMMISSIONER KIERAN PEHM

Mr Kieran Pehm BA, LL.B, LL.M is currently the Commissioner of the Health Care Complaints Commission. Prior to that, he was the Assistant Commissioner of HCCC. Mr Pehm had worked briefly in private legal practice before joining the NSW Office of the Ombudsman where he became the Assistant Ombudsman (Police), responsible for the management and investigation of complaints against the Police Service. Subsequently, he served as Assistant Commissioner (Complaints) at the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission, responsible for the handling of complaints of unlawful discrimination.

Mr Pehm then joined the Police Integrity Commission (PIC) as an Operational Lawyer and was Assistant Commissioner at the Legal Services Commission dealing with complaints against legal practitioners before taking up his position as Deputy Commissioner at the Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC). He had also served as a Senior Investigations Officer at the NSW Office of the Ombudsman.

LIST OF PROPERTY SEIZED BY POLICE

During the ‘drug detection’ raid, that lasted exactly two hours on 22 September 2010, Police seized the following items. Amongst the property were bottles of Loniten tablets which the Police listed below as Minoxidil. (That’s because the dangerous non-approved Loniten is in fact Minoxidil, but is a tablet, and therefore must not be used for hair regrowth, even though heart-pressure patients who do take Loniten do find that hair growth can be a nasty side-effect. Also note that Minoxidil as a topical solution is approved in certain dosages, as a topical solution only, whereas ingesting a tablet is vastly different, just like using acetone to remove nail-police from fingernails is approved as a topical lotion on the nails, and would be harmful if consumed by mouth — where it is obvious that drinking acetone would not remove the nail-polish from one’s fingernails. Also keep in mind that IHRB was not licensed to sell any of these medications (lotion or tablets), in any case.)

Item 1:  48 bottles of Minoxidil
Item 2:  1 slip containing 6 labels of Minoxidil
Item 3:  1 computer hard drive
Item 4:  48 bottles of Minoxidil
Item 5:  9 bottles of Minoxidil
Item 6:  8 bottles of Minoxidil
Item 7:  24 bottles of Minoxidil
Item 8:  3 bottles of Minoxidil
Item 9:  139 empty vials
Item 10:  117 prescriptions
Item 11:  List of medicine prices
Item 12:  4 bottles of Minoxidil
Item 13:  2 half bottles of Minoxidil
Item 14:  1 bundle of receipts
Item 15:  1 pile of papers
Item 16:  1 bottles of Minoxidil
Item 17:  5 boxes of client cards
Item 18:  9 personal files of clients
Item 19:  4 bottles of Minoxidil and one packet of Proscar

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