Oklahoma State Board of Pharmacy fires director amid bribe investigation

OKLAHOMA CITY - After meeting behind closed doors for nearly an hour and a half, the five members of the state pharmacy board voted unanimously Wednesday afternoon to terminate the board director's employment amid an investigation into whether she offered a bribe to influence the state's medical marijuana rules.

Chelsea Church, who has served as executive director of the Oklahoma State Board of Pharmacy for nearly a year, was not present at the meeting.

"We are cooperating fully with the ongoing OSBI investigation," said Pharmacy Board President Kyle Whitehead. "Further, we will work with urgency to find an interim executive director, who will uphold our mission of protecting the health and well being of Oklahomans. The accusations involving Ms. Church are being taken seriously and because of the nature of the investigation, there will be no further comment regarding her status with the board."

In a statement to News 4, Church's attorney called the board's action "hasty" and "unwarranted."

"Ms. Church received a positive performance evaluation in July of 2018 and a raise," said Tracy Schumacher. "The text message between she and Ms. Ezell is not the full picture here.  There was no nefarious plan between the two to put pharmacists in dispensaries.  She was tasked with doing so by the Pharmacy Board and by the inter-agency meetings between the Health Department, (Oklahoma Bureau of Narcotics) and Oklahoma Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse.  These meetings began in May of 2018."

Last week, independent journalism website NonDoc published text messages between Church and the now-former Oklahoma State Department of Health general counsel Julia Ezell in which Church appears to offer Ezell a job and pay raise in exchange for requiring pharmacists in medical marijuana dispensaries.

The rules Ezell presented to the health board earlier this month didn't include the requirement and one of two controversial amendments Ezell advised the board against, but the board added it anyway.

Since NonDoc's report, Oklahoma County District Attorney David Prater has asked the OSBI to look into the messages sent between Church and Ezell, as it appeared there was an attempt to influence and possibly bribe Ezell. He's also tasked state investigators to figure out if there were attempts to threaten, influence or bribe anyone related to the state board of health.

Ezell resigned from her post as general counsel in the days after the emergency rules were approved by the board and signed by Gov. Fallin. She was charged last week with criminal felony charges for allegedly emailing fake threats to herself in the days surrounding the presentation and voting on the emergency rules she helped draft.

Attorney General Mike Hunter said last Wednesday the health board overstepped its authority and called for it to hold a special meeting. A health department spokesman told News 4 Monday a date and time have not yet been set.

Also Wednesday, a joint legislative working group is holding a hearing from pro-cannabis groups relating to medical marijuana rules in the state.