DEA: Program manager at SA addiction treatment center steals over 2,200 pills

Richard Zello, 48, charged with four counts of obtaining drugs by fraud

By Adrian Garcia - Digital Journalist

Courtesy: Bexar County Jail

SAN ANTONIO - A 48-year-old man who was the program manager at a San Antonio addiction treatment center was arrested Tuesday after authorities said he stole more than 2,200 painkillers by forging prescriptions from the facility.

The man, identified as Richard Zello, is now being charged with four counts of obtaining Schedule II drugs by fraud.

According to an arrest affidavit, an investigator assigned to the Drug Enforcement Agency discovered Zello forged 70 prescriptions belonging to six practitioners at Laurel Ridge Treatment Center from October 2014 to May 2018.

The investigation revealed Zello received more than 2,200 pills of hydrocodone, acetaminophen with codeine, tramadol, and zolpidem, also known as Ambien, the affidavit stated.

"The issuing practitioners provided written statements indicating they never treated Zello for any medical condition, issue prescriptions, call-in prescriptions, or authorize anyone to issue or call in a prescription on their behalf of Zello," the affidavit said.

According to the affidavit, management at Laurel Ridge Treatment Center told the DEA investigator that Zello was the only non-practitioner with access to the area where the prescription pads were located.

The affidavit said several pharmacies told the investigator Zello received the forged prescriptions in person. It also said Zello is a licensed professional counselor and is currently employed at another local drug addiction treatment center, Warriors Heart.

Zello is now being charged with four counts of the third-degree felonies. According to online records, Zello was released from jail after posting his $65,000 bail.

According to Zello's bio page, he is a retired United States Air Force master sergeant serving 21 years as an addiction counselor.

According to his LinkedIn page, Zello began working for Laurel Ridge in June 2007 as a military therapist before being promoted to program manager overlooking the partial hospitalization and intensive outpatient programs.

Jacob Cuellar, CEO of Laurel Ridge Treatment Center, provided the following statement to KSAT.com: 

"Richard Zello is no longer employed by Laurel Ridge Treatment Center. He was terminated in early April 2018.

Laurel Ridge Treatment Center opened its doors in 1987 to provide specialized behavioral healthcare and addiction treatment on a therapeutic 18-acre campus, located in North Central San Antonio, Texas. Our state-of-the-art 250-bed facility was designed with one mission in mind: Saving Lives, Healing Families, Creating Hope."

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