SURREY â€” Five a.m. at a McDonaldâ€™s parking lot at the Surrey end of the Pattullo Bridge. March 18. A pair of headlights cuts through the emptiness.
The driver pulls slowly into a parking spot. Brake lights flash red, tires groan, the engine goes quiet. The car appears silver/white under the street lights. Another car glides through the lot with a different purpose: the 24-hour drive-thru. Breakfast.
The driver of the silver/white car steps out, shuts the door and walks purposefully towards the pharmacy at the opposite end of the darkened parking lot.
From the outside, it doesnâ€™t look like much, let alone a community pharmacy. There is a steel door, and nothing else. But thatâ€™s what the homemade sign on the door says it is: â€œIHS Pharmacy. Hours of Operation: Monday to Friday 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.; 8 a.m. to 11 a.m. on Sat, Sun and Holidays.â€ There is a phone number. And near the top, in big block print: â€œNO PUBLIC ACCESS.â€
The driver cuts to the left side of the building where there is a fenced-in car lot. He unlocks the gate and enters. Moments later, he pulls out in a silver Toyota. He gets out, locks the gate, and then drives off into the approaching dawn.
For several days in late March, The Province monitored the morning operations at IHS Pharmacy in response to persistent rumours alleging that notorious former pharmacist and pharmacy owner George Wolsey was involved.
Well known to the Ministry of Health and the College of Pharmacists of B.C., Wolseyâ€™s past dealings with both authorities have included audits for over-billing PharmaCare and investigations into methadone dispensing abuses, including claims of financial kickbacks to patients. The latter resulted in the suspension, and later closure, of one of his pharmacies.
In 2004, he was charged, along with the joint owner of a downtown pharmacy, with fraud. Wolsey was acquitted of the charge, while his partner, pharmacist David Rands, who has since left the profession, pleaded guilty and was sentenced to two years less a day in jail.
More recently, Wolsey, who has been unlicensed to practise as a pharmacist in B.C. since March 2010, has found himself wrapped up in a civil dispute with 10 former tenants of the two rundown hotels he used to own in Vancouverâ€™s Downtown Eastside.
Wolsey has told the presiding judge that he is too broke to pay the tenants more than $18,000 he owes them.
The Pivot Legal Society, however, which is representing the tenants, is expected to introduce evidence in court Monday in support of its position that Wolsey has both the assets and the income to pay his former tenants the outstanding money.
The Province traced the rumours to IHS Pharmacy, situated in an industrial area, where pharmacist Ian Sands, Wolseyâ€™s former business partner in the now-defunct Delta Pharmacy, is the listed pharmacy manager.
Much as on the other days The Province observed IHS, on the morning of March 18 activity appeared to begin at 5 a.m. with the arrival of the unidentified male and the car switch. A little over an hour later, another car, a red one, pulled right up to the pharmacyâ€™s door.
The man who got out was wearing a hat, glasses and a large black winter jacket. He walked slowly to the door. It was George Wolsey.
For the next three hours, there would be a flurry of activity, including the return of the driver of the silver Toyota and the arrival of another unidentified man who drove a large white van out of the fenced-in car lot.
Other cars pulled up and other people entered and left the pharmacy, some staying longer than others. All the while, Wolsey moved about, talking briefly to the drivers of the silver Toyota and white van, going in and out of IHS, and at one point leaving, then returning, in the red car.
At 8:56 a.m., the white van returned with six passengers, all of whom entered the pharmacy. About 15 minutes later, at 9:10 a.m., all six passengers left the pharmacy, climbed into the white van and drove off.
On another morning, the driver of the van stood at the door, allowing a clear sightline inside. On that day, it appeared that Sands, the listed manager, was dispensing prescriptions to the passengers of the white van.
When contacted by The Province, a woman who answered the phone at IHS Pharmacy said Sands wasnâ€™t â€œinterestedâ€ in answering any questions. A further request for comment on the relationship IHS Pharmacy has with Wolsey was not returned.
Calls to a cellphone number identified as Wolseyâ€™s were also not returned.
The College of Pharmacists of B.C., meantime, said they are not actively investigating any of Wolseyâ€™s current activities. But they encouraged anyone who has a complaint relating to him to come forward.
â€œWe have an interest in ensuring that Mr. Wolsey is not engaging in unauthorized practice,â€ said Mykle Ludvigsen, the director of public accountability and engagement at the college of pharmacists.
â€œThis is something that we would take very seriously of anyone, regardless of whether they have a bit of a history or not. If people have information, we would urge them strongly to come forward with it.â€
So just what is Wolsey up to?
That question may be answered best by one of his former associates.
The way Kevin Weinmeister tells it, there are few people who get close to George Wolsey. Weinmeister, 46, said heâ€™s one of the few.
Their relationship began in late 2010 when Weinmeister, who is on the provincial methadone maintenance program, said he left the Downtown Eastside with his girlfriend and moved to one of the houses run by Step by Step, a registered recovery society in Surrey.
Wolsey, said Weinmeister, was the pharmacist who delivered the daily methadone doses and prescriptions to the houseâ€™s residents.
â€œIt was stipulated from the very beginning to go through him,â€ said Weinmeister. â€œI tried to fight that because I had my own pharmacy. I didnâ€™t know what was going on at the time. But I clued in after a while.â€
Debbie Johnson, the operator of Step by Step, said they ended their professional relationship with Wolsey â€œsome time ago.â€
â€œWe donâ€™t use him any more,â€ she said. â€œAnd we havenâ€™t for some time.â€
Weinmeister said he eventually became a house manager. And over time, he began to develop a relationship with Wolsey and started working for him. Small jobs turned into bigger projects such as clearing Wolseyâ€™s property in Langley and renovating Wolseyâ€™s sonâ€™s condo.
By the summer of 2013, Weinmeister, who had left Step by Step, was starting to have conversations with Wolsey about running one of the recovery houses the former pharmacist is allegedly involved with.
According to Weinmeister, Wolsey is directly involved with the Impact Housing Society, which pitches itself in a brochure as â€œtransitional mental health housing,â€ and has at least three houses under its name. Weinmeister took over a house in the 14000-block 72 Avenue.
â€œI found out that the 72 house (72 Avenue) was empty and I was on the phone with George, going, â€˜Well what is stopping me from opening my own house?â€™â€ said Weinmeister. â€œâ€˜You pay the rent and I will get the clients and I will bring them to you (for prescriptions).â€™
â€œHe said, â€˜Thatâ€™s a good idea.â€™ The next day he phones me up and said: â€˜Hey, the 72 house is ready to go, why donâ€™t you take that one over?â€™â€
Weinmeister and his girlfriend moved into the house in December 2013. Under the arrangement with Wolsey, their responsibilities included finding residents, getting them on medication, and sending them to IHS Pharmacy to fill their scripts, said Weinmeister.
In return, they would be permitted to live rent free and, as payment, keep the monthly $450 rental payments, in the form of welfare cheques, provided by the residents. He understood that rent to the property owner was to be covered by Wolsey.
â€œThatâ€™s supposed to be the deal. [But I] never got it,â€ said Weinmeister, admitting that he wanted a slice of all the money he saw being made. â€œGeorge seems to have got greedy and wanted to keep all of it. That is when our dispute started.â€
As proof of the arrangement and later falling-out, Weinmeister showed The Province text exchanges he claimed were between him and Wolsey and an Impact Housing Society brochure. One of the text messages, identified as being sent by Wolsey, mentions the growth of his â€œmental health business.â€
A part of another one, also allegedly from Wolsey, says, â€œjust get clients on meds.â€
According to the brochure, the Impact Housing Society is â€œa memberâ€ of the U.S.-based National Alliance of Mental Illness (NAMI), something the organization refuted when contacted by The Province.
â€œI checked with our director of federal affairs, who is the housing expert on our police team. He has never heard of them,â€ Bob Carolla, director of media relations at NAMI, said in an email. â€œAs a matter of policy, NAMI does not endorse any product or service.â€
The website address on the brochure is no longer active and the phone number goes directly to an automated answering machine.
Weinmeister also provided The Province with a copy of the rental agreement IHS residents signed, and took The Province on a tour of the 72 Avenue house.
â€œThere is no service, there is no recovery,â€ said Weinmeister of the Impact Housing Society. â€œIt is not recovery. It is a flop house.â€
There is also no hard paper evidence to link Wolsey to IHS Pharmacy, the Impact Housing Society and its properties, or the other recovery houses that Weinmeister alleges Wolsey is providing, via IHS Pharmacy, with methadone and other prescriptions.
As for the 5 a.m. car switch, Weinmeister suspects itâ€™s related to prescription drops at different recovery houses. And the white van, he said, picks up residents from different recovery houses and brings them to IHS for their daily methadone dose and other prescriptions.
â€œHe has people that he convinces are going to get their pockets lined and then just uses,â€ said Weinmeister. â€œHe is smart enough to know how to get around the law. But if there was someone willing to investigate properly â€¦ the things Iâ€™ve found out just using the Internet â€¦ it blows me away.â€