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Valeant Pharmaceuticals: The Great Wellbutrin Channel Mystery

With Valeant Pharmaceuticals’ evolution from battleground stock to full-bore Wall Street circus, it is easy to forget that underneath the competing valuation narratives and regulatory drama is a real operating company.

The odd thing is that down at the operating level — where drugs are made, shipped to market and sold — things don’t get very much clearer.

One of Valeant’s more enduring riddles is the continued vitality of Wellbutrin XL, a drug that has been off patent since 2006. A January Bloomberg News article ably laid out Valeant’s strategy of constantly raising prices on the drug — 11 times since 2014 — that underscores how revenue jumped.

But looking at Wellbutrin XL’s prescription count data from the second and third quarters last year — specifically the reported revenues — some unanswered questions remain.

For instance, the third-quarter Wellbutrin XL prescription data captured by Symphony (and available via a Bloomberg terminal) indicated that the count declined by 2,743 prescriptions, to 67,312 from 70,055.

The decline in Wellbutrin XL’s prescription count makes plenty of sense since there are numerous factors working against the brand — the aforementioned price increases and additional generic competitors hitting the market after the Food and Drug Administration put to rest bioequivalency concerns.

What doesn’t make sense is how revenues increased 37.3 percent sequentially, jumping to $92 million from $67 million. It seems we can rule out Direct Success, the Farmingdale, New Jersey-based specialty pharmacy that fills Wellbutrin XL prescriptions for low (or no) patient co-pays and then works to secure reimbursement, as the channel for the difference.

While Direct Success is the obvious candidate to explain any discrepancies since data reporting services don’t capture specialty pharmacy prescription activity, Valeant itself ruled this possibility out when spokeswoman Laurie Little told Bloomberg News, “[Direct Success] accounted for less than 5 percent of Wellbutrin XL sales.” She also remarked that there were other channels where the drug is sold, including “Medicare, Medicaid and the Department of Defense.”

It is very unlikely that these channels factor into the Wellbutrin XL issue. Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Service contract awards are heavily contingent on price and the Department of Defense even more so; many Medicare Part D plans don’t even cover the brand. Here is a DoD contract out for bid, for example, and here is the (generic manufacturing) winner.

(As the Southern Investigative Reporting Foundation was finalizing reporting on this article, Wells Fargo research analyst David Maris released a report that mentioned Wellbutrin XL’s unusual performance in the third quarter of 2015, among numerous other issues. While ordinarily it would be unusual to be beaten to the punch by a sell-side analyst, Maris is an exception, having — ironically — caught Valeant’s corporate forbear Biovail Pharmaceuticals in a revenue inflation scheme. In full disclosure, I also reported frequently on Biovail, a legendarily clogged corporate toilet.)

One area that merits consideration is some sort of channel stuffing, wherein distributors are sold more drugs than they can presumably sell themselves.

Consider pharmaceutical distributors, who have very narrow operating margins (given the nearly riskless nature of their business) and whose business model benefits mightily from distributing drugs where price increases are regularly announced. This allows them to purchase drugs in advance of the scheduled increase and profitably resell them at a higher price.

For a manufacturer, aggressively moving extra inventory into distribution channels bears little risk: The profit on incremental volume moved is huge and it is effectively zero-interest financing since the company gets cash up front and simply return it to the distributor if product is unsold. The risk is that a manufacturer’s distribution networks have too much of a product and sales decline until inventories clear out. To be sure, there is a long history of pharmaceutical companies improperly handling the accounting related to drug distribution.

Inventory reduction has certainly been on Valeant management’s mind.

At a December analyst meeting in Newark, then-chief executive officer Michael Pearson spoke about “bringing down the inventories in the wholesale channel,” “the continued impact of the reduction in channel inventories” and referenced getting “normalized in 2016.”

Valeant’s days sales outstanding do appear high as the chart below indicates, even adjusting for the inventory that came on balance sheet in April when the Salix purchase closed. (In December, the Southern Investigative Reporting Foundation released an investigation into Valeant’s unusual Eastern European distribution practices.)

Sources: Bloomberg and SEC filings
Sources: Bloomberg and SEC filings


On Friday afternoon the Southern Investigative Reporting Foundation submitted questions via email to Valeant outside spokeswoman Renee Soto of Sard Verbinnen & Co. She did not reply by press time.

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Valeant Pharmaceuticals: Howard Schiller, Up in the Air

Shortly before 11 p.m. on Feb. 4, Valeant Pharmaceuticals CEO Howard Schiller took off from Dulles International Airport for home. It had been a long, tiring day of preparation, congressional testimony with plenty of blunt questioning and afterward came the inevitable debriefing with his legal and public relations advisory team.

It was not a lost day, though: Speculators in Valeant’s shares perceived Schiller as having done well and the stock price closed up $3.87, an unexpected development when a CEO is called to account for his company’s business model. He certainly helped his cause when he flatly admitted the company made mistakes and understood the pain its drug pricing policies had caused.

To be sure, it did not go flawlessly — there were several broadsides landed from the likes of U.S. Rep. Elijah Cummings, the head of the House Committee on Government Oversight and Reform panel that subpoenaed him. And a day earlier the Democratic committee staff had posted a letter — culled from discovery in the Committee’s ongoing investigation — with several deeply unflattering references to Valeant’s business practices.

Still, whatever else that day brought Schiller, it can be safely assumed that had the representatives known he flew home on Valeant’s G650, the world’s most expensive private jet, not even sitting next to a smirking Martin Shkreli — whose colleague was castigated for acknowledging Turing Pharmaceuticals threw a $23,000 party for its sales force on a yacht — could have shielded him from some populist outrage. (Congress has a track record of criticizing executive’s private jet flight at companies under investigation.)

This is Valeant’s G650:

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So Schiller’s flight home was good. He did not have to sit on plastic seats waiting to be boarded by zones; he just walked right onto the plane. Nor did he have to shimmy into a closet-sized restroom that smelled like a mashup of Lysol and Mennen Speed Stick. There was plenty of leg room and he was always free to move about the cabin. In case he wanted a snack, the refrigerator has its own IP address that communicated its inventory to the D.C. based ground crew who restocked it prior to takeoff.

Exactly 57 minutes after takeoff Schiller landed at the Morristown, New Jersey, airport, a 20-minute car service ride to his home in Short Hills. Flying home at over 500 miles per hour, Valeant’s newly appointed CEO went from Dulles’ suburban D.C. tarmac to his northern New Jersey house in less time than he would have been inside an airport prior to boarding a commercial flight.

Flight records reviewed by the Southern Investigative Reporting Foundation suggest Schiller has quickly grown fond of the G6, having flown three times in the past month with his family and friends to a small regional airport in Montrose, Colorado, near his Telluride ski house.

Those drug pricing policies that necessitated Schiller’s D.C. interlude have made Valeant a great deal of money, or at least enough to maintain a fleet of three Gulfstream jets: a G4, G5 and G6. The G5 and G6 are owned through a company subsidiary, Audrey Enterprise LLC. It keeps them in Morristown, 23 miles away from its U.S. headquarters in Bridgewater.

Valeant is hardly alone in having a fleet of its own planes but it certainly chose from the high end of the menu. The G6 cost just under $65 million when it was delivered in 2013 and the G5 was about $59 million in 2012. It costs between $2 million and $3 million annually to staff, insure, house and maintain the three jets before variable costs like fuel — a 1,000-nautical mile trip in the G6 uses about 860 gallons — and cabin crew. When under way, the cost per hour is about $4,500 for the G5 and G6 and around $3,400 for the G4, although the recent drop in fuel prices probably puts these figures on the high side.

Under the best of circumstances a company extending its leadership the personal use of a major corporate asset like an aircraft can be fraught with potential headaches. At the top of that list is what happens when that company comes in for some bad publicity; then there is what happened to Valeant, which has become a corporate pariah.

Most chief executives would be hard-pressed to afford regular personal travel aboard a Gulfstream or its equivalent but Schiller’s personal financial situation is not like most chief executives. A Goldman Sachs partner at the time of its 1999 initial public offering — where his 0.375 percent stake became $61.87 million in cash — chartering his own plane isn’t likely beyond his means. His salary is $4.8 million and he currently holds a little over $36 million in Valeant shares.

Valeant’s 2014 proxy statement explicitly permitted Schiller’s predecessor Michael Pearson — who is still on medical leave and recuperating in his New Vernon, New Jersey, home — to use company aircraft as he saw fit. In 2014 it valued this use at $195,614 (although it stopped paying his taxes for these flights.) Schiller’s employment agreement does not mention aircraft use but in the proxy he and Pearson were the only executives with personal use allowances.

On Friday a Valeant spokeswoman, Renee Soto of Sard Verbinnen & Co., was emailed a pair of questions about “the optics” of flying back from the congressional hearing on a G6 as well as Schiller’s personal use of company aircraft. She did not reply.

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Mr. Schiller’s $9 Million Worth of Reasons to Work Cheaply

Valeant Pharmaceuticals is the type of company that tends to make even the simplest things complex.

The contract of Howard Schiller, its new chief executive officer, is proof of this tendency.

On Jan. 6 Valeant’s board of directors gave Schiller the role of interim CEO; the company previously had an hoc, three-man “office of the chief executive”created on Dec. 28 in the wake of the disclosure that founder and then CEO J. Michael Pearson had taken a medical leave of absence of indefinite duration.

Notwithstanding the fact that Valeant has become the most closely followed company in the capital markets — attributable in part to the Southern Investigative Reporting Foundation’s revelations of its hidden ownership of Philidor — it was reasonable to have expected a filing several days after Schiller’s appointment that disclosed relevant compensation package details.

But that announcement came only on Feb. 1, three weeks after Schiller assumed control.

Schiller’s July 17 separation agreement sheds some light on why he ran a besieged company for over three weeks without an employment agreement in force. Recall that the then CFO resigned in April (after the high-profile Allergen acquisition bid collapsed) to pursue other interests.

The July agreement paid Schiller $2,500 per month for consulting and allowed 100,000 “performance restricted stock units” to vest on Jan. 31, 2016, giving him over $9 million worth of reasons to work (temporarily) for less than the salary of an assistant manager at a fast food restaurant. Each unit converts into one freely tradable share.

Why Valeant would not state that Schiller’s employment agreement would be disclosed after his 100,000 units vested is unclear. An email seeking comment from the company’s public relations adviser, Sard Verbinnen’s Renee Soto, was not responded to.

From a narrow point of view, Schiller’s new contract appears fairly standard; it paid him $400,000 per month for a two-month term ending on March 6. What happens then, however, is unclear. It certainly opens up a Russian nesting doll of questions: Is Michael Pearson seeking to return? If so, will there be disclosure about the root causes of his multi-month absence? If he can’t or won’t return, what criteria is the board of directors using to evaluate Schiller over a 60-day period?

Despite Schiller’s having $9 million in salable stock and a handsome salary on top of that, the money is unlikely to be much comfort for Schiller, given the looming date of his Feb. 4 for his appearance before the House Government Oversight and Reform Committee to answer questions about Valeant’s drug pricing strategy A Feb. 2 memorandum from the committee’s Democrats suggests that Schiller’s welcome will not be a warm one. Containing some unflattering excerpts culled from the more than 75,000 documents Valeant produced in discovery, it shows, among other things, that the company pursued transactions simply for the ability to raise prices. The memorandum did not try to hide the Democrats’ contempt for Pearson, mentioning him eight times in the seven-page document.

Corrections: The initial version of this story misstated the value of Howard Schiller’s restricted stock unit grant and inaccurately connected him to Valeant’s brief-lived office of the chief executive. The story has been corrected and updated. 

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Valeant’s Eastern Front

Poland seems a most unlikely place for the next chapter of Valeant Pharmaceuticals’ saga to play out. Weighing in with about 3 percent of sales, the Polish operations are seemingly a modest contributor to Valeant’s fast-growing bottom line.

But Valeant’s Eastern European operations have recently been the source of a good deal of message board rumor, which in turn has prompted the company to quickly respond.

So the Southern Investigative Reporting Foundation set out to see whether Valeant’s units in Eastern Europe are as robust as their North American brethren. The foundation chose Poland to start with because it’s the third largest geographic segment and, along with Russia, a core component of the company’s emerging markets unit (which represented 25 percent of sales last year). Just as important, unlike Russia, Poland doesn’t have a rich civic tradition of killing investigative reporters or the people working with them.

There’s a lot more inventory in the corporate supply chain than meets the eye, and that’s rarely a good thing, at least in the long term. Moreover, this is occurring against the backdrop of a flat sales trend in Poland.

Given the complex Valeant Europe organizational chart, sussing this out wasn’t a walk in the park.

Screen Shot 2015-11-28 at 5.20.08 PM

On Nov. 10, Valeant’s chief executive officer, J. Michael Pearson, during a conference call, noted that Polish inventory levels were currently equivalent to four months’ worth of his company’s then average sales rate and were slated to be lowered. The call to discuss Valeant’s business came in the wake of its Philidor-driven controversies stories that the Southern Investigative Reporting Foundation’s readers will recall it was the first to report.

Translated from business speak, what Pearson meant is that Valeant’s Polish operations has sold four months’ worth of inventory to a series of distributors, who, in turn, will deliver the products to retailers. Most CEOs want to avoid having inventory levels spike in distribution channels because over time excess supply reduces demand, which in turn forces production cuts and ultimately lowers the price of the product. (See what Valeant said when the Southern Investigative Reporting Foundation asked it about Polish inventory issues.)

But the full picture is much more complicated than that.

In Poland, three of Valeant’s subsidiaries, ICN Polfa S.A., PF Jelfa and Valeant SP. Z O, account for 98 percent of its revenue. Of the three, Valeant SP is by far the largest, amounting to about 75 percent of the revenue. It’s not, as might be expected, a manufacturer but a wholesaler, buying drugs Valeant produces in Poland and elsewhere, and then selling it to other distributors.

While Valeant’s explosive revenue growth is what made the company so beloved of investors, that hasn’t made it to Poland yet. Through the third-quarter revenue from the three units, as measured by IMS Health data, was just under $187 million and on pace to slightly improve upon last year’s $270.3 million. In turn, 2014’s sales were off relative to $296.4 million in 2013.

According to filings, at the end of last year, the three subsidiaries had 95 days’ worth of sales in inventory on its balance sheet. (There’s not a hard and fast rule for determining how much inventory is too much, but when it’s just sitting on a balance sheet and not moving, it’s a safe bet that the higher the figure goes, the more management and investors should worry.)

Add that to the 120 days of sales that Valeant recently acknowledged having in the channel. That’s 215 days of Valeant’s production chain that hasn’t made it to the retail market. Since the end of 2013, IMS Health data shows Valeant’s inventory in the distribution channel increasing to four months’ worth of sales from under two months.

To answer the question of whether that’s standard or not, take a look at how much inventory other major pharmaceutical wholesalers keep on their balance sheet. The three companies below, Neuca, Pelion and Farmacol, control nearly 70 percent of the Polish wholesale pharmaceutical market:

Screen Shot 2015-11-30 at 6.16.35 PM






So Valeant in Poland is clearly moving inventory less rapidly than its peers and per above, has put additional product into the channel earlier this year given the increase to four months of sales. To be fair, the comparisons are not exact given that the other three companies are purely wholesalers and Valeant has manufacturing operations.

A spokeswoman for Valeant, Renee Soto of Sard, Verbinnen & Co., said Polish inventory levels as of yesterday were back to three months’ worth of sales.

The supply chain process in Poland for getting a drug to a pharmacy from the plant is fairly described as labyrinth. Evidence the first is an occasional fourth step in the supply chain process called pre-wholesale warehouses, which are owned by the wholesalers but aren’t tracked by IMS Health. This inventory essentially falls “off the grid” and it’s nearly impossible to see how much is in there or how long it stays.

Industry insiders in Poland say that pre-wholesale warehouses hold inventory from manufacturers and charge them between 1.2 percent to 2 percent of the value of the inventory per month as a fee.

Then there is Myslowice, a 138,000-square-foot warehouse located equidistant between Valeant’s two other facilities in Jelenia Gora (546,000 square feet) and Rzeszow (412,000 square feet). One cannot easily find the facility listed on the company’s website because it leases it from DHL, the giant shipping and logistics company whose Exel unit often leases properties to work with key clients.

A recently granted license allows it to operate as a pharmaceutical wholesaler but unlike the other two facilities its permit allows it to sell on consignment. While consignment sales are fully legal, from an accounting perspective they often raise earnings-quality questions. (Bausch & Lomb, then an independent company, was ensnared in a consignment sale scandal in the 1990s.)

Valeant says the facility is currently its main distribution hub for Poland and Eastern Europe and that it does a small amount — about $4 million — of consignment sales there for a hospital unit. Read its full response.

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The Curious Case of Mr. Pearson’s 502,996 Shares

On Valeant Pharmaceuticals’ conference call on Nov. 10, embattled chief executive J. Michael Pearson offered several defenses of his company’s internal controls and procedures.

Similarly, in defending both himself and Valeant from the now constant drumbeat of controversy, one of Pearson’s constant refrains has emphasized his commitment to transparency.

A March 11, 2014, Securities and Exchange Commission filing suggests Pearson and Valeant have a long way to go on both of these fronts. Put bluntly, a footnote in a Valeant filing more than 18 months old appears to show how Pearson made a handsome profit through what is referred to as an unspecified “error.”

How handsome? Thanks to a rocketing stock price and corporate opacity, Pearson picked up a block of stock for $20 million less than it was then worth.

(Southern Investigative Reporting Foundation readers will recall its Oct. 19 revelation of the company’s secretive relationship with Philidor, its captive — and soon-to-be shuttered — specialty pharmacy that kicked off this trauma for Valeant. On Oct. 25 a follow-up story was released.)

Let’s start with why this is a truly unusual document for a Form 4, an often ignored class of company filings that disclose corporate insider share purchases and sales. Traditionally, the value of Form 4’s are usually interpreted in connection to a broader context or event, like executives selling into a potential corporate share repurchase or their buying shares because of an improving sales outlook.

In this case, given the unusually heavy weighting Pearson’s compensation plan has toward share price appreciation, a March 2014 Form 4 filing noting his acquisition of 502,996 restricted stock units — shares awarded only when share price appreciation triggers are met — was to be expected given Valeant’s then soaring stock price.

But then take a look at the filing’s footnote No. 2: “On May 24, 2013, the Registrant delivered 502,996 vested performance share units (the ‘2010 PSU Grant’) to Mr. Pearson in error. In connection with Mr. Pearson returning to the Registrant the value of such shares on the date of delivery (plus interest), Mr. Pearson has been credited with 502,996 vested share units to be delivered to him in accordance with the terms of the original 2010 PSU Grant.”

The awarding of 502,996 shares to Pearson “in error” is difficult to imagine for anyone who understands the compartmentalization of a large company.

Valeant is a large, fully-staffed corporation and Pearson’s compensation is closely scrutinized by both its board of directors and lawyers. As such, any clerical error would likely have been immediately caught.

Notwithstanding the error, there is no filing detailing the initial grant. The only mention  of the block prior to March 2014 is found buried in a footnote on page 32 of Valeant’s 2013 Proxy noting that the 502,996 RSUs had met their vesting triggers. Previous RSU grants, especially one for 486,114 shares in 2011, don’t seem to have generated any problems.

What we can say is that this is the kind of mistake that happens all too rarely in the professional lives of most people. On May 24, 2013, the date of the initial–and errant–restricted unit award Valeant’s share price was $84.47; on March 11, 2014, the stock closed at $139.96, a difference of $55.49. According to the footnote, Pearson appears to have rectified the error by writing a check for the “value of such shares on the date of delivery.”

The footnote’s language suggests that “the date of delivery” is May 24, 2013, meaning that sometime before March 13, 2014 — the date of the Form 4’s filing with the SEC –Pearson wrote a check for about $42.48 million (plus an unspecified interest rate) to own a block of Valeant shares that was then worth over $70.39 million, a nearly $28 million differential.

It’s not clear if these shares were part of the block of 1.3 million shares (out of 2 million originally) that Pearson had pledged to Goldman Sachs for a $100 million personal loan. The shares were seized by Goldman last week when he was unable to make an October 30 margin call.

The Southern Investigative Reporting Foundation requested comment from Valeant through Renee Soto at Sard Verbinnen, its outside public relations adviser. She said the company would not comment beyond its previously made disclosures. A follow up phone call was not returned.

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The Pawn Isolated: Valeant, Philidor and the Annals of Fraud

The Southern Investigative Reporting Foundation’s story looking at Valeant Pharmaceuticals’ well-concealed relationship with Philidor Rx Services, struck a nerve.

Briefly, the story explored the ways in which Philidor, a specialty pharmacy whose sole customer is Valeant, used opacity and some misdirection to try and build a national pharmacy network. Additionally, the Southern Investigative Reporting Foundation uncovered how Valeant had sought to conceal its control of Philidor.

A Valeant conference call scheduled for Monday morning, Oct. 26 is designed to explain these previously hidden relationships and, more importantly, calm the very frayed nerves of its battered shareholders.

But recently uncovered documents from a litigation between Philidor and R&O Pharmacy are probably going to have the opposite effect, in that they illuminate what can only be described as a bizarre effort to circumvent California regulations. Moreover, R&O’s allegations have been known to Valeant management for a month.

Additional Southern Investigative Reporting Foundation reporting has revealed that Valeant has been closely involved with Philidor at every stage of its life cycle, controlling it in all but name, since day one.

This pain isn’t being borne for no reason, however.  The foundation’s reporting indicates that Philidor is almost certainly one of the most important parts of Valeant’s business.


On July 21 Russell Reitz, a 64-year-old pharmacist and the “R” in R & O Pharmacy, was working in his office when a visitor dropped in unannounced. It was Eric Rice, an executive with Isolani, the company that had struck, what he thought, was a deal to buy the small compounding pharmacy back in December.

Rice had flown in from Philadelphia with several of the ranking executives of Philidor Rx Services. This Reitz found odd since when he questioned Rice about it, he insisted he worked for Isolani.

It was a tense but professional meeting and both sides left it unfulfilled.

Eric Rice was unable to come to an agreement over securing $3 million in payments he felt were due his enterprise. Reitz, for his part, had a startlingly basic question that Rice had not satisfactorily answered, both in a series of emails, and in person.

Reitz wanted to clear up once and for all, why despite his insistence that he worked for Isolani, he was always professionally connected to someone from Philidor. What was the difference between the two companies, or were they one and the same?

Rice’s colleagues, Philidor CEO Andy Davenport, general counsel Gretchen Wisehart and controller Jamie Fleming, were to Reitz’s eyes, in the middle of everything Isolani did.

Rice, whose LinkedIn profile left little doubt about where he worked, still couldn’t answer to Reitz’s satisfaction why, if he had agreed to sell his company to Isolani LLC, was Philidor the entity he always had to deal with? And what was Philidor’s real agenda anyway?

Moreover, neither Rice nor his colleagues, whose emails to him were getting increasingly strident, had ever answered another question Reitz had posed: Where was Isolani’s pharmacy permit? That they obtain their own, and not rely on R&O’s was a core component of the sale agreement. (It does not appear they ever applied for one.)

To Reitz, the huge volume of Philidor’s prescription drug sales, using R&O’s National Council for Prescription Drug Programs number, was infuriating; that a good deal of the millions of dollars in volume were in states where R&O had no registration to operate in, with drugs he never had dispensed, and filled by a pharmacy he did not own, was nauseating. To pile insult upon injury, he had refused to sign the pharmacy’s audit only to learn it was signed by Eric Rice.

This dispute had transcended the “he said-she said” realm of most business disputes a few weeks prior and was something Reitz hadn’t supposed existed apart from movies featuring the mafia taking over a business. Apart from Ray Liotta and Joe Pesci’s absence from this drama, it was in every sense a bust out.

Not that there weren’t signs that R&O was more to Isolani than just a platform for compound pharmaceutical sales. Back in mid-December, shortly after the deal was inked, Reitz was surprised to see Jamie Fleming, Isolani’s controller, show up at his office with boxes of inventory. He had a man with him who introduced himself as Gary Tanner, and who was clearly in charge. It all seemed on the up and up, if a bit sudden.

After meeting Tanner, Reitz went back and looked him up. He couldn’t understand what Gary Tanner, a specialty pharmacy expert with Valeant’s Medicis Pharmaceuticals unit was doing involved with R&O. In July, Tanner’s signing of an employment contract was something the company would later find it important enough to disclose to investors.

Reitz couldn’t have possibly known that a few months prior to approaching R&O, Philidor executive Sheri Leon had signed a California State Board of Pharmacy Change of Permit request for West Wilshire Pharmacy, despite providing inaccurate answers to standard questions. Under oath, she answered “no” to questions asking if she had ever worked for an entity that had been denied a California permit, and if any other entity owned more than 10 percent of her company.

That May, Philidor had been denied a nonresident pharmacy permit and like Isolani, it controlled Lucena Holding LLC, the entity used to buy West Wilshire Pharmacy.

On Jan. 7 Eric Rice would sign a similar document seeking transfer of R&O’s license to Isolani.

Something Reitz might have looked into, was the origin of the word Isolani. It comes from the world of chess. To simplify a complex theory, it centers around isolating the pawn, the weakest and least consequential figure in the game.

Given Reitz’s refusal to pay, Isolani sued him in September to obtain a judicial order to preserve what it alleged was at least $15 million out of a total of $19.3 million worth of checks written to it. In response, his lawyer Gary Jay Kaufman filed a 68-page declaration. The next court date is set for the middle of December.


What Gary Tanner was doing at R&O was his job, which includes being the overseer, for want of a better term, of Philidor and its network of affiliated (or captive) pharmacies.  Tanner’s exact title is unclear but an ex-Medicis executive said that he is Valeant chief executive Michael Pearson’s primary contact about Philidor’s operations.

This source said that Tanner has often worked in conjunction with a lawyer, Michael Dean Griffen, and another (now apparently former) Medicis employee, Bill Pickron, to source these types of pharmacy transactions for Medicis and Valeant.

The Southern Investigative Reporting Foundation’s reporting suggests that there is little to separate Valeant and Philidor beyond corporate wordsmithing. Indeed, former Philidor employees said Valeant’s executives were such a constant presence at the Hatboro, Pennsylvania, headquarters facility, that it was commonly supposed they had a block of rooms permanently reserved at local hotels.

Consider Philidor’s launch in June 2013. It’s a safe bet that Valeant heavily underwrote or otherwise subsidized the company given the long lead times of insurance reimbursement, coupled with the stress on working capital of starting a business with rapid expansion plans.

According to former employees, Philidor places heavy productivity demands on its call-center and data-entry personnel, but pays them decently: SIRF found most employees earned between $20 to $25 per hour, but in return a near 60-hour week was mandatory.

This is where the stress on working capital management factors in, since overtime would add at least $400 extra per employee paycheck. On top of that, from a late 2013 headcount of 250, Philidor added an average of 100 employees per quarter, as well as a 28,000-square-foot lease, utilities, health care, insurance and the frequent “extras,” like free lunches and coffee, to incentivize employees to stay at their workstations.

Eventually, of course, the reimbursements for the thousands of prescriptions roll in, but until then those bills have to be paid. Nothing about the economic profiles of Philidor’s management group suggests they have the ability to personally absorb the millions of dollars it cost each month to get the company off the ground.

For example, Philidor chief executive Andy Davenport, while the owner of a five bedroom, 3,500-square-foot house in nearby Horsham, has had a series of municipal liens placed against him for unpaid county and state property taxes.


At bottom, pharmacies like R&O were a way for Philidor to surmount the very big hurdle resulting from the California Board of Pharmacy rejection, in May 2014.

(It is quite a read, referring to several “false statements of fact” by Matthew Davenport –the CEO’s brother — including the nondisclosure of Philidor’s true owners and their real equity stakes.)

The headache existed because, as ex-Philidor employee Taylor Geohagan put it when interviewed last week, “Billing from a [pharmacy’s] license in one state, but shipping from a California location, is against the rules.”

He would add, “Pretty much everything we did in the [Philidor] Ajudication department was use the [National Provider Identifier] codes from the pharmacies we bought out to get something [approved] in a pinch.”  He described his Philidor experience in a website posting at that said that paper copies of the NPI numbers of “sister pharmacies” were rarely handed out, and if they were, they were soon taken away and shredded.

Geohagan said that when he left the company in late summer, the practice of using multiple NPI numbers had stopped. (At least part of his animus toward the company, he wrote, resulted from resigning with two weeks of notice and being fired the next day.)

The Philidor billing department manual actually has a page that discusses using the NPIs of these so-called captive pharmacies called “Our Back Door Approaches,” according to another former employee. For example, when attempting to secure approval for a prescription with an insurance company Philidor did not have a relationship with, employees were instructed to use West Wilshire’s NPI.

Two ex-Philidor employees from the adjudication and billing departments told the Southern Investigative Reporting Foundation that the volume of prescriptions flowing into the company was massive, with billing unit workers expected to process at least 100 prescriptions daily. The former adjudication unit employee showed the Southern Investigative Reporting Foundation internal documents from November trumpeting the fact that 22,299 prescriptions were filled in the prior week. Additional documents showed other weeks that came in above 23,000.


A strategic distancing from the controversial unit does not appear to be an option for Valeant.

The Isolani v. Reitz litigation reveals that Philidor’s use of these captive pharmacies is a vital revenue stream for Valeant. Some digging around in its corporate filings shows that R&O, at least before Russell Reitz began to object in July, was poised to a material contributor to organic growth.

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A brief aside: organic growth, or the increase in sales apart from Valeant’s acquisitions of other companies, is vital to the debate over its future. Short sellers and other critics, for example, have argued that the company’s drug brands are, in the main, declining; without the torrid pace of acquisitions, shrinking revenues and profits are a foregone conclusion.

Thus the importance of looking at what Philidor’s newly exposed captive pharmaceutical network reveals. Here’s what it shows: In the second quarter, Valeant’s 8-K reported “organic” sales growth of 19 percent, with revenue growing $691 million, to $2.73 billion from $2.04 billion.

Of this $691 million, however, at least $392 million was attributable to acquisitions, with the $299 million balance organic revenue.

The Kaufman declaration’s release of the Philidor/Valeant invoices to R&O imply a prospective quarterly sales run rate of about $55 million (an average $4.6 million weekly shipment multiplied by 12 weeks). This would have accounted for 18.5 percent of Valeant’s total organic growth in the second quarter. From there, it’s a sure bet that given the prominence of West Wilshire to Philidor’s billing unit, its sales volume would easily surpass R&O.

Notionally, organic growth equal to 40 percent or more of that $299 million could have come from two pharmacies that even the most gimlet-eyed Valeant sleuth didn’t suspect existed.

It also becomes much easier to understand why Valeant’s management didn’t immediately sever the relationship with Philidor.


An outside spokeswoman for Valeant, Renee Soto of Sard Verbinen, told the Southern Investigative Reporting Foundation last week the company would not comment.

A message left for Gary Tanner was not returned.

And attempts to contact Eric Rice and other Philidor employees named in the story by placing calls to the company’s management ended up with their being routed to Greg Blaszczynski, the chief financial officer of BQ6 Media. That’s the pharmaceutical marketing effort where both Davenport brothers have served as CEO.