Contributed Photo/Courtesy GCSO: From left, Iriz Rivera, 19, of Mesa, has pleaded guilty to forgery regarding a multi-county fraudulent prescription syndicate allegedly led by Poulos Tewelde, 23, Fahad Osman, 22, and Yafet Habtom, 21, who are from Washington.
By Jon Johnson
SAFFORD – When criminals come to Safford they get caught,” that’s what Safford Police Chief Joe Brugman said in September 2017 after four alleged members of a fraudulent prescription syndicate were apprehended by investigators.
While they may have been caught here, the case against the three men, Fahad Osman, 22, of Seattle, Wash., Poulos Tewelde, 23, of Seattle, Wash., and Yafet Habtom, 21, of Lynwood, Wash., extends into various other counties and jurisdictions. With their alleged crimes of forging prescriptions and fraudulently obtaining the prescription drug promethazine with codeine in various other counties, the Arizona Attorney General’s Office (AG) is expected to take over their cases including their local case here, which is currently being handled by the Graham County Attorney’s Office and three local defense attorneys. If the AG takes over the case, Graham County will not only no longer handle the prosecution but their defense as well.
The fourth member, Iriz Marie Rivera, 19, of Mesa, was reportedly one of a number of young girls the three men used to help obtain the promethazine, which is an anti-histamine sedative. According to statements to police from Rivera, the men had illegally obtained the drug in Maricopa, Pinal, and Gila counties before attempting to do so in Graham County as well. She said the men would receive $750 per bottle of promethazine they shipped back to Washington.
Rivera pleaded guilty to a single charge of forgery – a Class-4 Felony – on Nov. 2, 2017, with the caveat that she be sentenced to standard supervised probation. The plea agreement states that in return for the state accepting the plea Rivera must testify against the three men if so called to do so as well as provide restitution to any defrauded pharmacies in Safford and Thatcher in an amount not to exceed $1,000. She is scheduled to be sentenced May 21 at 11 a.m.
Officers were on the lookout for the crew after they had hit up five pharmacies the previous week in September 2017 with a different girl. On Sept. 22, 2017, officers were dispatched to Walmart at 755 S. 20th Ave. regarding prescription fraud involving promethazine. Later, they witnessed Rivera get out of a car containing the three other suspects at Walgreens in an attempt to retrieve a bottle of promethazine and all four were taken into custody.
Through Rivera’s statements and police work, a number of fraudulent prescriptions from pharmacies throughout the state were located, as well as bottles of promethazine found in the men’s vehicle that matched prescriptions from Bashas’ in Gold Canyon and materials for making the fraudulent prescriptions. Additionally, Habtom is listed as a suspect in seven separate cases in Washington regarding forged prescriptions for promethazine.
The three men are all out on bond and have returned to Washington. They all have pretrial conference hearings scheduled in Graham County Superior Court on April 24, starting at 11 a.m., but with the AG likely taking over it is unknown if those hearings will proceed.