Windsor, Ont. pharmacist with record of misconduct among 6 charged in Toronto opioid trafficking ring
John Gerges is one of two pharmacists connected to a ring alleged to have been trafficking opiate pills
A Windsor, Ont. pharmacist is one of six people charged in connection to an opioid trafficking ring in Toronto.
John Gerges, who previously identified himself to CBC News as the operations manager of the Olde Walkerville Pharmacy on Wyandotte Street East, was one of two pharmacists connected to the ring.
Gerges has a history of professional misconduct.
York Regional Police charged Gerges with three counts of possession for the purpose of trafficking, as well as one count of possession of a forged document.
Const. Laura Nicolle told CBC News that in December 2019 officers with her organization carried out a search warrant in Toronto that led to "several arrests at the time."
In total, investigators with York Regional Police seized more than $500,000 worth of opioid drugs, more than $220,000 in cash and one firearm.
Toronto residents Walter Jovel, Sahir Shemun, Sandra Youssef, as well as Vaughn residents Blarsn Zaro and Firas Georges, were charged in connection to the ring.
History of professional misconduct
According to online Ontario College of Pharmacists (OCP) records, Gerges is currently registered at the Totten Pharmacy in Windsor, as well as the Mill St. Pharmacy in Tilbury, Ont.
He registered with the OCP in 2011.
His OCP record lists a number of professional misconduct concerns for which he was disciplined, including dispensing an incorrect number of tablets to a patient, failing to maintain accurate records, as well as failing to maintain "the standards of the profession."
Gerges was suspended from May 2017 to September 2017.
Among the concerns listed in Gerges's OCP record is the trafficking charge he received in December.
CBC News first became aware of Gerges's record in 2019, after U.S. presidential candidate Bernie Sanders took part in an insulin caravan that visited the Olde Walkerville Pharmacy.
At the time, Gerges identified himself as John George. A subsequent Radio-Canada investigation, however, revealed that no one named "John George" is registered with the OCP., nor is the position of "operations manager" defined by the college.
[Gerges] had connection to a number of pharmacies in [the] area.- Const. Laura Nicolle, York Regional Police
A number of other pharmacists at the Olde Walkerville Pharmacy also had concerns attached to their OCP files.
Nicolle said Gerges "had connections to a number of pharmacies in [the] area."
Despite the concerns attached to Gerges's file, he was still allowed to sign off on narcotics.
Gerges currently under investigation by the OCP
A spokesperson for the OCP said though Gerges maintains his license, court-imposed restrictions mean he's not allowed to work in a pharmacy, nor is he allowed to enter the pharmacy section of a store without a legitimate medical reason.
"Mr. Gerges is currently under investigation by the college and all registrants are required to renew their certificate of registration annually," wrote the spokesperson, in an email.
According to the OCP, if an investigation results in a referral of allegations to the college's discipline committee, a pharmacist's certificate of registration can be suspended or revoked, if a committee panel "finds a registrant guilty of professional misconduct or incompetence."
'Most pharmacists really uphold, follow the rules,' says local pharmacist
Tim Brady, business owner of Brady's Drug Stores in Belle River, Ont. and Essex, Ont., said he was shocked when he first learned about the charges laid against Gerges.
"Most pharmacists really uphold the rules so when you see someone who has historically broken them again and again you wonder at what point does it stop," he said.
According to Nicolle, this isn't the first time officers pursuing a drug trafficking case have found connections to licensed pharmacists.
Most pharmacists really uphold the rules ...- Tim Brady, Owner, Brady's Drug Store
Still, Brady emphasized that "most pharmacists really uphold [and] follow the rules."
"We've been voted one of the most trustworthy professions and we want to keep that status," he said. "So we'll work even harder, all the other pharmacists work even harder to combat this type of action."
With files from Amy Dodge