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Jeb Bush's Daughter Held in Prescription Fraud

Arrest: Noelle Bush is jailed after she allegedly tried to buy an anti-anxiety drug by posing as a doctor. She was released on bail.

January 30, 2002|JOHN-THOR DAHLBURG | TIMES STAFF WRITER

MIAMI — Noelle Bush, daughter of Florida's governor and niece of President Bush, was arrested early Tuesday as she allegedly tried to buy an anti-anxiety drug with a fake prescription.

After being detained at the drive-up window of a pharmacy in Tallahassee, Florida's capital, the 24-year-old woman, who appeared "very shaky" to police, was taken to jail for booking on a third-degree felony charge of prescription fraud. She was released on $1,000 bond, Tallahassee police spokesman Scott Hunt said.

In a terse statement later in the day, Gov. Jeb Bush and his wife tacitly admitted that the second-oldest of their three children had developed a drug problem and asked for public understanding.

"Columba and I are deeply saddened over an incident that occurred last night involving our daughter, Noelle," the couple said. "This is a very serious problem. Unfortunately, substance abuse is an issue confronting many families across our nation. We ask the public and the media to respect our family's privacy during this difficult time so that we can help our daughter."

Despite that plea, media attention was instant and enormous, with cable channels like CNN playing the arrest as one of the top news items of the day. It was the latest brush with the law for the nation's extended first family. President Bush's twin daughters, Jenna and Barbara, have both been charged with underage drinking.

After his first failed race for Florida's governorship in 1994, Bush said one of his children had developed what he described at the time as a short-term drug problem. He never specified whether it was Noelle or one of her brothers, George, 25, or Jebby, 18.

Meanwhile, Columba Bush, who admitted she is very uncomfortable in the public spotlight, began visiting the state's schools at least twice a month after Bush's successful 1998 campaign to preach the dangers of drug and alcohol abuse. The only other cause she has associated herself with is promoting art appreciation among the young.

Florida's Republican governor, who is running for reelection this year, has tried to keep his family life off-limits to the media, but he has let drop at least one hint that his daughter has been beset by difficulties.

On April 28, 2000, Bush was the commencement speaker when Noelle, an art student, graduated from Tallahassee Community College with more than 200 classmates. He loved community colleges, the governor announced, because they are "citadels of second chances."

Noelle Bush, who lives alone in Tallahassee, attended Florida State University during the 2000-01 academic year but did not return last autumn. When questioned Tuesday by police, she said she was supposed to start a new job later that morning as an administrative assistant at a software company.

Noelle Bush was arrested outside a Walgreen's when the druggist became suspicious over a phoned-in prescription left on the answering machine. Police sources said the order had been for Xanax, which is used to treat anxiety disorders and panic attacks.

Carlos Zimmerman, the pharmacist on duty, became suspicious after a female, identifying herself as Dr. Noel Scidmore, called in the prescription for Noelle Bush. When the druggist phoned the doctor's answering service for confirmation, a colleague informed him that Dr. Scidmore was no longer practicing in Tallahassee. When the governor's daughter showed up at the drive-up window around 1:15 a.m. in her white Volkswagen Beetle to pick up the pills, the druggist called police.

According to one of the police officers sent to investigate, Noelle Bush denied posing as Dr. Scidmore but acknowledged the number left by the purported doctor in fact belonged to her. Another policeman on the scene listened to the taped order for Xanax and concluded the voice appeared "identical" to Noelle Bush's.

The governor's daughter was read her rights, handcuffed, searched and taken to the Leon County Jail.

"Bush appeared very shaky during interview but calmed considerably after being placed under arrest," the arresting officer wrote in his report.

According to Wade White, a prosecutor in the Leon County state attorney's office, the third-degree felony of prescription fraud carries a maximum prison term of five years and a fine of $5,000.

However, said White, "it's very unlikely anyone who was a first-time offender . . . would receive a sentence like that." Officials in the state attorney's office said they doubted the case would even come to trial.

The governor and Columba Bush, in their statement, said they would make no further comment. Officials in the governor's press office also said they could provide no information to reporters.

Florida motor vehicle records show that since 1995, Noelle Bush has received seven speeding tickets, been cited for five other traffic violations and been involved in three automobile crashes, according to Associated Press.

Last May, Jenna Bush, one of the president's daughters, was charged with using someone else's identification to try to buy a margarita at a Texas restaurant, and her sister, Barbara, was charged with underage drinking.

The charges were dropped after the twins performed community service, attended alcohol awareness classes and paid $100 fines. A separate underage drinking charge in April against Jenna Bush went on her record as a conviction because of the restaurant violation. A judge fined her $500 and suspended her driver's license.

In June 1999, Columba Bush, Noelle's mother, was caught trying to bring in $19,000 worth of clothes and jewelry from a Paris shopping spree without paying duty. Florida's first lady was fined $4,100 and became the butt of jokes on late-night television.

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