Forgotten Landmark-McKesson & Robbins Building, 182 Winchester Avenue, New Haven CT

McKesson & Robbins Building (182 Winchester Avenue)

Constructed in 1935, this building once belonged to the McKesson & Robbins Company, an organization at the center of a famous accounting fraud in 1938.

The mastermind of the McKesson & Robbins fraud was Philip Musica. Musica’s criminal career began early. By his 30th birthday, he had been convicted of fraud twice. The first conviction was for avoiding import tariffs by bribing customs officials to record incoming shipments at a fraction of their true weight. The second conviction was for using forged invoices to obtain large bank loans. In 1919, after adopting the name Frank D. Costa to conceal his criminal record, Musica founded the Adelphi Pharmaceutical Manufacturing Company. Adelphi manufactured high alcohol-content products such as hair tonic and cosmetics. Adelphi’s best customers were bootleggers who bought huge quantities of the company’s products and distilled out the alcohol to make booze.

In 1925, using the assumed name of F. Donald Coster, M.D., Ph.D., Musica used his bootlegging profits to buy McKesson & Robbins, a ninety-year-old company that sold milk of magnesia, cough syrup, and quinine. During the next twelve years, Musica/Coster built a pharmaceutical distribution network that rivaled national chains such as Liggett, Rexall, and Walgreen.

To inflate McKesson & Robbins’ reported assets while skimming cash into his own pocket, Musica enlisted the help of his three younger brothers. One brother, using the alias George Vernard, was placed in charge of a fictitious sales agency—W.W. Smith & Co. The W.W. Smith office was actually a “letter-writing plant” containing seven typewriters, each with a distinct typeface and a unique supply of stationery. Musica/Vernard’s role was to write purchase orders bearing the names of fictitious companies and mail them to McKesson & Robbins.

Another Musica brother, using the alias Robert Dietrich, was placed in charge of McKesson & Robbins’ shipping department. This brother would forge shipping documents to make it appear that inventory had been delivered by McKesson & Robbins to legitimate customers. The fourth Musica brother, using the alias George Dietrich, was appointed McKesson & Robbins’ assistant treasurer. This brother would transfer money between numerous company bank accounts to create the appearance of cash payments for purchases and cash receipts from customers. For each sale, McKesson & Robbins paid W.W. Smith & Co. a commission of .75 percent. The four Musica brothers divided the Smith commissions among themselves with Philip, the oldest brother and mastermind, getting the largest share. The McKesson & Robbins fraud was not discovered until late 1938 when the company’s treasurer, Julian Thompson, became suspicious of the large payments McKesson & Robbins was making to W.W. Smith & Co. Thompson obtained copies of the Dunn & Bradstreet (D&B) credit reports that had been used to satisfy McKesson’s auditors of W.W. Smith’s viability. When he showed the credit reports to a D&B representative, he learned that D&B had never heard of W.W. Smith & Co. and that the credit reports in his possession were forgeries. On December 6th, 1938 the SEC opened an investigation into McKesson & Robbins’ accounting and the New York Stock Exchange suspended trading of the company’s shares. One week later, federal agents arrested Coster, fingerprinted him, and released him on bond. The next day, investigators discovered from his fingerprints that respected businessman F. Donald Coster M.D., Ph.D. was really twice-convicted fraudster Philip Musica. They ordered Musica/Coster taken into custody, but Musica put a gun to his head and took his own life.[i]

McKesson & Robbins Building, 182 Winchester Avenue, New Haven, CT
Photo courtesy of Google Street View, accessed 9/22/2012

[i] “The Greatest Frauds of the (Last) Century”; Paul M. Clikeman, Ph.D., CPA; Robins School of Business, University of Richmond; May 2003;

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