Oklahoma pharmacy board fires director amid probe into texts

BY ASSOCIATED PRESS
07/29/2018 12:00 PM
OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — The Oklahoma Board of Pharmacy fired its executive director Wednesday after state investigators confirmed she is the target of a bribery probe involving text messages exchanged with a top lawyer involved in writing the state's new medical marijuana rules.

The board unanimously voted to fire Chelsea Church following a closed-door meeting in Oklahoma City. The special meeting was called after the online news agency Nondoc reported on a series of text messages in which Church appears to offer Department of Health attorney Julia Ezell a higher paying job at the agency in exchange for medical marijuana rules favorable to pharmacists.

"You get me a pharmacist in dispensary and then come to our office. I guarantee I can do more than u have now," Church wrote in one of the texts.

Church's attorney, Tracy Schumacher, wrote in a letter to the board Wednesday that the text message "does not present the full picture." Ezell's lawyer has confirmed the text messages' authenticity. Ezell helped write Oklahoma's medical marijuana rules after voters approved the issue last month.

Church has not been charged with a crime, but Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation spokeswoman Jordan Solorzano confirmed she is being investigated. Solorzano said the investigation could take months and that once completed, it will be forwarded to Oklahoma County District Attorney David Prater to consider criminal charges.

Ezell has been charged separately with making false threats for allegedly sending threatening emails to herself and then initially lying to authorities about them. After a forensic search of her phone, Ezell confessed to creating a fake email account and sending threatening messages to herself, according to an OSBI investigator's affidavit. She later resigned.

Ezell advised the Oklahoma Board of Health not to adopt the rule requiring a pharmacist in every dispensary, but the board disregarded her advice and approved the last-minute change . Attorney General Mike Hunter has said the board overstepped its authority when it approved several of the rule changes, and the board plans to meet next week to consider amending them.

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