Utah fire chief appears in court on prescription fraud charges
A Unified Fire Authority assistant chief was brought before a judge Wednesday for the first time since he was charged with obtaining prescription drugs under false pretenses more than two months ago.
Assistant Chief Marlon Don Jones declined to hear the judge read aloud the 14 counts he faces falsely obtaining prescriptions, which is also known as doctor shopping. Each of the third-degree felonies carry a possible sentence of up to five years in state prison.
Jones, 48, appeared out of custody Wednesday, wearing a button-down shirt and looking somber as he stood before 3rd District Judge Katie Bernards-Goodman.
He will appear in court again before the end of the month for a routine scheduling hearing.
Cottonwood Heights police began investigating Jones after the agency was asked to look into irregularities and discrepancies concerning UFA's supply of controlled substances, according to a UFA statement. In doing so, investigators began exploring the drug histories of UFA employees.
Jones was found to have a large number of prescriptions for several highly-addictive controlled substances from various pharmacies, including hydrocodone and carisoprodol, which are pain killers, and zolpidem, a sleep aid, according to court documents.
The prescriptions Jones used had been issued by three doctors, at least two of whom did not know Jones had been prescribed drugs from other physicians.
Jones initially admitted to taking the pain relievers Celebrex and Lortab infrequently and only as needed. After he was confronted about his prescription drug history, Jones acknowledged taking pain medication three times a day, documents state.
Investigators suspect Jones was receiving the prescriptions for about a year.
Although UFA has had an ongoing investigation into missing drug supplies, UFA Chief Michael Jensen has said the charges against Jones are unrelated.
Jensen added that Jones who has been a county fire employee for 24 years was a good employee, and that no one suspected he had a drug-abuse problem.
Jones has been on paid administrative leave since he was charged. A UFA board, which met Wednesday, will determine whether Jones will be put on unpaid leave for the duration of his case in criminal court or whether more severe sanctions will be imposed.
There are several factors that will influence how Jones is treated in the long term, Jensen said.
"He's got a problem; it's a human tragedy," Jensen said. "But can it be fixed? Can we still trust them to do their jobs? Or has it reached the point that it's beyond that? That's what we need to figure out before we move forward."
In accordance with UFA policy, Jones is presumed innocent until proved otherwise and is eligible for employee assistance programs offered by UFA.
Jones, who lives in Bluffdale, has no prior criminal history, according to a search of Utah court records. He was promoted in January from a battalion chief to the position of assistant chief, according to a UFA board agenda notice.
Another UFA employee faces drug charges
Bruce Bergdahl, 44, will appear in 1st District Court in Box Elder County at the end of August, at which time he will be arraigned on charges of falsely obtaining prescriptions. The third-degree felonies each carry up to five years in prison.
According to court documents, Bergdahl received prescription drugs on three dates since the beginning of the year from a doctor to whom he did not disclose the fact that he was already receiving medication from other physicians.
He has been placed on paid administrative leave since the charges were filed on July 25, said UFA Fire Chief Michael Jensen. Future decisions regarding Bergdahl's employment status will depend on how his case plays out in court, Jensen said.
"We presume he's innocent until proven guilty," Jensen said. "I need to see, officially, what the true story is and then wade through all of those facts before we can decide what we're going to do."
Bergdahl has been employed by Unified Fire Authority for 18 years. His alleged drug problems were discovered during an investigation by Cottonwood Heights police into missing controlled substances in the UFA supply.
As part of their investigation, Cottonwood Heights investigators began looking into the drug histories of UFA employees. Jensen has emphasized that Bergdahl's charges are not tied to the missing drugs.