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Fort Morgan hospital pharmacist Andrew Komesu was already in jail facing charges of forging prescriptions and plundering drugs when local police and federal agents discovered his stash. The haul, made in May 1994, was one of the largest in ten years for a DEA anti-drug task force that covers a four-state area. It was as if Komesu had planned to open his own drugstore, the agents joked.

Inside a Loveland storage warehouse, investigators found the painkillers Demerol, Duragesic and Tylenol with codeine. Komesu had hoarded Versed (an anesthetic) and the drugs Xanax, Wellbutrin and Halcion. He'd stockpiled large quantities of antibiotics, aspirin and Maalox and stored two handguns and five assault rifles, some of which were being converted to automatic weapons.

But it was the amount of morphine discovered that stunned even the most seasoned agents. Komesu had amassed approximately two gallons of the narcotic, enough to provide every man, woman and child in the eastern Colorado prairie town of Fort Morgan with several hefty doses.

If convicted in federal court, the 39-year-old Komesu would have received a mandatory sixty years for his crimes. But the local district attorney agreed instead to prosecute the pharmacist in state court in return for his guilty plea to 25 felonies. The plea bargain called for Komesu to serve five to twenty years in a Colorado prison. Probation, Komesu's lawyer and the district attorney agreed, was not to be an option.

When Komesu was sentenced to five years, the local police were satisfied. It was the minimum they were willing to accept, they say, but they decided they could live with it.

Early last month, however, after serving just over four months in the county jail, Komesu was released, his sentence reduced to probation.

And that's something the feds, the police and the people of Fort Morgan have decided they shouldn't have to live with.

"On occasion," DEA task-force member John Gray opined three weeks ago at a ceremony to honor the police officers who worked on the case, "truth, justice and common sense have no place in the courtroom." Fort Morgan police blame the district attorney's office for what they now see as lax prosecution. But the district attorney claims he was "burned" by the judge and the opposing counsel.

Komesu's case has reopened a debate about how to treat medical professionals who are addicted to drugs. Are they run-of-the-mill addicts, or do they deserve special treatment because of their professional status?

Komesu says he deserves a break. Even though, in his own words, he was a "drug addict and thief," he tells Westword he doesn't believe he should have been treated like a common criminal. "It stabbed me in the heart, because they made me out to be a bad person," he says, "and I'm not. I'm a good person. I did a bad thing." He stresses that he never sold the drugs. He'd stockpiled 27,800 doses of morphine, he says, only for the purpose of weaning himself off of it.

In an editorial, the Fort Morgan Times complained, "This man's `professional' background includes stealing drugs...In this day and age of `get tough on crime,' it is hard to believe that this man could be out walking the streets after serving just five months in jail."

The good people of Fort Morgan don't have to worry about Komesu running loose in their town--he relinquished his license to practice pharmacy in the state of Colorado.

But Californians might want to be on the lookout. Despite Komesu's claims to the contrary, DEA agents believe he's already working as a pharmacist in the Los Angeles area.

Andres Komesu (he goes by "Andrew") had been a pharmacist for eleven years when, in May 1993, he moved his family from California to Fort Morgan to accept a position as director of the pharmacy at the Colorado Plains Medical Center. He moved to the farming community, he says, because he thought Colorado a beautiful place and because he wanted to leave retail pharmacy and get back into a hospital environment.

"Health professionals, in general, are a prideful group," Komesu says, and in that respect, he was no different from the rest. "I believed I was a good pharmacist. I thought I was the best clinical pharmacist I know."

Komesu, in fact, had received a glowing recommendation from his former boss in California, who praised him for his experience, knowledge, attitude and dependability. "I am sure," wrote pharmacy manager Michael Castillo, "that given the opportunity to show what kind of worker and person he is, you will not be disappointed."

Komesu's boss couldn't have been more wrong. Within months of Komesu's arrival in Fort Morgan, he was using his experience and knowledge to line his pockets with stolen drugs. (Castillo professed shock last week at hearing of Komesu's conviction. Komesu, he says, had left in good standing and was a "great employee," and the store suffered no loss of controlled substances.)

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Karen Bowers