KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- A federal grand jury indicted a member of the Kansas City, Missouri, Fire Department on drug charges Thursday.
The indictment accuses 36-year-old Michael Fostich, a KCFD paramedic at Station 18, of stealing fentanyl and morphine from ambulances and replacing the fentanyl with another substance.
Typically, the narcotics are sealed in boxes then locked in electronic safes on KCFD ambulances, but as a paramedic, Fostich had access to these safes and the authority to open the boxes to administer the narcotics to patients, if necessary.
Fostich, who was employed as a KCFD paramedic from August 2014 to Dec. 11, 2016 was arrested Thursday morning and is scheduled to appear in federal court Thursday afternoon.
The indictment alleges that Fostich is responsible for the use, administration or wasting of 806 doses of fentanyl, which accounted for approximately 39 percent of all of the KCFD's total reported use from Jan. 1, 2016 through Dec. 11, 2016.
During that same time period, Fostich reported he was responsible for the use, administration or wasting of 636 doses of morphine -- 63 percent of all the KCFD's total use, court documents say.
In addition to stealing fentanyl and morphine, Fostich is accused of tampering with a container of fentanyl on Dec. 11, 2016. Court documents say the paramedic removed the fentanyl from the vials and replaced it with another solution, with reckless disregard for the risk that another person would be placed in danger of death or bodily injury. The documents say he then placed the vials back into the narcotics box and attempted to reseal it before putting it back in the safe on the ambulance.
Fostich faces one count obtaining a controlled substance by fraud and one count of tampering with consumer product for his alleged actions.
U.S. attorney's office spokesman Don Ledford said Fostich appeared in court Thursday and was released on a $5,000 bond. His next arraignment is scheduled for April 3.
Sources tell FOX4 that members of Local 42 negotiated with former KCFD Chief Paul Berardi, who was the chief at the time, to have Fostich placed on modified duty to mitigate red flags that a paid leave would have raised during an investigation.
FOX4 has requested information on Fostich's status with KCFD twice under the Missouri Sunshine Law, but our requests have been ignored.
Berardi retired from his role as fire chief in September. He had been with the department for more than 30 years. He was appointed fire chief in 2013, after serving in an interim role when former Chief Richard Smokey Dyer retired.
Chris Hernandez, communications director for Kansas City, issued the following statement Thursday afternoon:
"KCFD has cooperated fully with federal authorities throughout the investigation.
"When KCFD management became aware of suspicious behavior that appeared to violate established safety procedures and controls, they immediately notified law enforcement and asked for an investigation.
"The paramedic was removed from patient care responsibilities and access to drugs and was placed on modified duty while the investigation was underway.
"The grand jury process is, by law, a closed matter and we have no information we can offer at this time other than what has been reported through law enforcement and judicial filings.
"It is our policy to consistently and affirmatively cooperate with law enforcement in any investigation regarding our personnel and facilities. Where charges are brought, we follow these with independent investigations and process to determine appropriate actions respecting personnel and employment. While those investigations are underway, we must refrain from further comment other than to provide our assurance that appropriate actions will be taken as warranted by the findings."
Stephen Thornton, an emergency room physician at the University of Kansas Hospital, acknowledged how common it is for some health care professionals to steal drugs on the job.
"There's a lot of personnel who end up getting addicted to substances because there's access," he said.
Thornton said morphine and fentanyl are commonly used to relieve pain and work fairly quickly. But he said fentanyl is often abused and can turn deadly fast.
"Fentanyl is an extremely potent substances in some cases. Depending on what kind of fentanyl you're dealing with, it can be a thousand times more potent than morphine," he said.
Thornton said the allegations against Fostich are just another example of how dire the opioid epidemic is in the United States.
"The addiction to opioids is very powerful," he said. "It drives people to do whatever they can to obtain it."