Prison pharmacists were paid 24/7, testimony shows

A pair of married contract pharmacists at Pleasant Valley State Prison in Coalinga persuaded their boss that they should be paid for working 24 hours a day, seven days a week -- and the boss agreed, according to court testimony Monday during the couple's preliminary hearing.

Now, after making almost $1.1 million in overtime pay over a period of three years, Coalinga couple Ronald Juliana and Joyce Rutan-Juliana are facing 18 felony charges, including grand theft and perjury. Investigators also found more than 30,000 prescription drug pills -- in boxes, baggies and bottles -- in the couple's two homes. One investigator said officials suspect the couple was going to sell the drugs.

But a big question remains unanswered: Why did state officials sign off on the overtime pay plan in the first place?

Kirk Stinson, a special agent with the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation's internal affairs office, testified in Fresno County Superior Court that Juliana convinced his supervisor he had to be paid for every hour of every day as an "on-call" pharmacist. Juliana was the prison's lead pharmacist from 2004 to 2007.

Shortly after Juliana started his job, his wife, Rutan-Juliana, was hired to work under Juliana and also was paid for "on-call" work.

Stinson said the supervisor, Maureen Mahoney, who was the prison's health administrator, agreed to the overtime pay because a state policy required prisons to make prescription drugs available to inmates at any hour. Mahoney said she felt that if she did not pay Juliana and Rutan-Juliana "on-call" pay, she would subject the prison to potential lawsuits, Stinson said.

Mahoney could not be reached to comment late Monday.

But Jay Virbel, a former special agent in the prison's internal affair's office, testified that there was a much simpler way to comply with the prison policy: keep lockers filled with prescription medicine that nurses could dispense at any time.

Both Juliana and Rutan-Juliana were employed by Riverside-based Drug Consultants Inc., which had a contract with the prison to provide pharmaceutical services. The contract said that overtime should be avoided, and there was no provision that allowed for "on-call" pay.

Stinson said that Juliana also tried to get Ray Arviso, a manager at Coalinga State Hospital, to agree to a similar overtime-pay plan. But Arviso didn't think it was necessary.

In all, Stinson said, the prison overpaid Juliana about $768,700 and Rutan-Juliana about $327,000.

Besides her prison job, Rutan-Juliana worked full time from September 2004 to February 2007 at the state Department of Health Care Services -- which Virbel, the former special agent, said broke state law because she was receiving two salaries for the same job.

Melinda Hatano, a former special agent with the prison's internal affairs office, testified that investigators found a total of 30,000 tablets, pills, capsules and syringes filled with liquid at the couple's homes in Coalinga and Fair Oaks, a city in Sacramento County. Investigators also found various kinds of marijuana at the Fair Oaks home.

"Based on my training and experience, the amount of drugs found in the home told me they were possessed for distribution or for sale," she said.

It's not clear where the drugs came from, but defense attorney Mike Idiart said many were prescriptions for the couple and their relatives, and some were bought in bulk from Mexico.

A prison spokesman said Monday that he could not comment on why the pharmacists were allowed to collect so much overtime pay.

Idiart said his clients did nothing wrong by accepting overtime pay.

"Everything they did was no secret," he said. Both Juliana and Rutan-Juliana declined to comment.

Judge Mark Snauffer will rule today on whether the couple will face trial.