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The Justice Department announced today the second coordinated law enforcement action of the Appalachian Region Prescription Opioid (ARPO) strike force, resulting in charges against 13 individuals across five Appalachian federal districts for alleged offenses relating to the over prescription of controlled substances through “pill mill” clinics.  Of those charged, 12 were charged for their role in unlawfully distributing opioids and other controlled substances and 11 were physicians.  The alleged conduct resulted in the distribution of more than 17 million pills.  

This action follows the first such takedown in April of this year, which involved charges against 60 defendants, including 53 medical professionals, in 11 federal districts, alleging the illegal distribution of more than 23 million pills.  The charges brought in April have already resulted in 11 guilty pleas in seven federal districts, including guilty pleas by nine medical professionals, including seven physicians.

The charges announced today aggressively prosecute medical professionals whose alleged prescribing behaviors have contributed to the opioid epidemic, particularly medical professionals who are involved in the unlawful distribution of opioids and other prescription narcotics, a particular focus for the Department.  According to the CDC, approximately 115 Americans die every day of an opioid-related overdose.  

Today’s enforcement actions were led and coordinated by the Health Care Fraud Unit of the Criminal Division’s Fraud Section in conjunction with its ARPO Strike Force, a partnership between the Criminal Division, U.S. Attorney’s Offices, the FBI, DEA and the U.S. Health and Human Services-Office of Inspector General (HHS-OIG).  In addition, the operation includes the participation of various other federal, state and local law enforcement agencies, including the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation (TBI), Ohio Medicaid Fraud Control Unit and West Virginia Medicaid Fraud Control Unit.  Additionally, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, Center for Program Integrity (CMS/CPI) announced today that all appropriate administrative actions would be taken based on these charges. 

“The Department of Justice will not relent in its aggressive pursuit of those responsible for fueling the opioid epidemic in Appalachia,” said Assistant Attorney General Brian A. Benczkowski of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division.  “Medical professionals who violate their solemn oaths and peddle opioids for profit should know that we will find you and ensure that the justice system treats you like the drug dealer you are.” 

“We have taken a very tough stance against those that fuel the opiate crisis at every level including pill writers, pill fillers and drug dealers,” said U.S. Attorney Mike Stuart of the Southern District of West Virginia.  “The unlawful distribution of controlled substances is a serious matter that gets my office’s full attention.  It is one of our highest priorities for prosecution as we continue with our efforts to protect the public and the people of West Virginia.  And for those that struggle or have a loved one that struggles with addiction and substance use disorder, I again urge treatment and recovery.  While we remain tough in our actions against those who feed this crisis, my sincere and prayerful hope is that everyone who needs help gets help on their path to true recovery.”

“From street corner to clinic, the Department of Justice continues to show its resolve in bringing to justice those responsible for the opioid crisis in America,” said U.S. Attorney Jay E. Town of the Northern District of Alabama.  “A federal courtroom awaits those who have sacrificed the efficacy of care for the evils of greed.”

“We said in April that the ARPO strike force was not a one-and-done spectacle, but an enduring commitment to stamp out opioid trafficking by prescription pad. We meant it,” said U.S. Attorney Benjamin C. Glassman of the Southern District of Ohio.  “It’s thanks to the partnership between U.S. Attorney’s offices, the Criminal Division and our law enforcement partners that the United States is able to investigate and prosecute not only medical professionals who are allegedly acting as drug dealers, but also the myriad other malefactors who have contributed—and are contributing—to the opioid epidemic.”

“Opioid misuse and abuse is an insidious epidemic, and unfortunately, causes individuals to engage in criminal behavior that contributes to the problem,” said U.S. Attorney D. Michael Dunavant of the Western District of Tennessee.  “Just as this office will hold medical professionals accountable for over-prescribing opioids, we will also pursue federal charges against any person who exploits the medical profession for their own selfish desire to obtain highly addictive prescription drugs by dishonest methods.”

“Today marks another successful operation by the Appalachian Regional Prescription Opioid Strike Force against the illegal distribution of opioids which endanger our neighbors and the communities we live in,” said Assistant Director Terry Wade of the FBI’s Criminal Investigative Division.  “Through strong cooperation between the FBI and its law enforcement partners, the Strike Force’s coordinated efforts resulted in bringing those responsible for this egregious and costly epidemic to justice.  The FBI will continue to make illegal opioid distribution investigations a top priority.”

“Illegal diversion of opioids and other controlled substances may lead to drug addiction and deaths, as well as a drain on resources that could be used to provide legitimate healthcare services,” said Special Agent in Charge Maureen R. Dixon of HHS-OIG.  “We will continue to work closely with our law enforcement partners to bring criminals to justice, and enable honest healthcare providers to better serve Medicare and Medicaid beneficiaries.”

“The opioid epidemic continues to have deadly consequences for our state,” said Assistant Director Mike Cox of the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation Medicaid Fraud Control Division. “We will continue working with our law enforcement partners to target dishonest healthcare professionals who contribute to the problem by illegitimately prescribing opioids and other medications for profit.”  

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In the Southern District of Ohio, four medical professionals were charged, including three medical doctors and one doctor of osteopathy, in connection with several alleged “pill mill” controlled substance diversion and/or health care fraud schemes.

Troy Balgo, D.O., 53, of Saint Clairsville, Ohio, the elected county coroner of Belmont County, Ohio, was charged with one count of health care fraud, one count of conspiracy to commit health care fraud, six counts of unlawful distribution of controlled substance and one count of conspiracy to commit unlawful distribution of controlled substances.  These charges are based on an alleged scheme by which Balgo caused and/or conspired with others to cause submissions for health care services that he did not perform, and to prescribe controlled substances while he was out of the state or country.   Balgo is the owner and operator of two medical clinics in St. Clairsville, Belmont County.  The DEA, FBI and HHS-OIG, as well as the U.S. Department of Defense Office of Inspector General (DOD-OIG), the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL), the Ohio Attorney General’s Office, the Ohio Bureau of Worker’s Compensation and the Ohio Board of Pharmacy investigated this case.  The case is being prosecuted by Trial Attorney Christopher Jason of the Criminal Division’s Fraud Section. 

George Griffin, M.D., 70, of Cincinnati, Ohio, was charged with 20 counts of distribution of controlled substances for his alleged participation in the unlawful prescription of controlled substances outside of the course of professional practice and without a legitimate medical purpose.  Griffin owns and operates a solo medical practice in Cincinnati, Hamilton County.  The DEA, FBI and HHS-OIG, as well as DOD-OIG, the Ohio Attorney General’s Office, the Ohio Bureau of Worker’s Compensation and the Ohio Board of Pharmacy investigated this case.  The case is being prosecuted by Trial Attorney Christopher Jason of the Criminal Division’s Fraud Section.

Thomas Romano, M.D., 69, of Wheeling, West Virginia, was charged with 20 counts of diversion of controlled substances for his alleged participation in the unlawful prescription of controlled substances outside of the course of professional practice and without a legitimate medical purpose.  Romano owns and operates a solo cash-only medical practice in Martin’s Ferry, Belmont County.  The DEA, FBI and HHS-OIG, as well as the Ohio Bureau of Worker’s Compensation and Ohio Board of Pharmacy investigated this case.  The case is being prosecuted by Trial Attorney Christopher Jason of the Criminal Division’s Fraud Section.

Freeda Flynn, M.D., 66, of Saint Clairsville, Ohio, was charged with eight counts of distribution of controlled substances, and one count of health care fraud, for her alleged participation in the unlawful prescription of controlled substances outside of the course of professional practice and without a legitimate medical purpose, and health care fraud for the submission of claims for services which were medically unnecessary and/or performed below medically-accepted standards.  Flynn owns and operates a solo practice with focuses on medical and opioid addiction treatment programs in St. Clairsville, Belmont County. The DEA, FBI, HHS, as well as DOD-OIG, the Ohio Attorney General’s Office and the Ohio Board of Pharmacy investigated this case.  The case is being prosecuted by Trial Attorney Christopher Jason of the Criminal Division’s Fraud Section. 

In the Southern District of West Virginia, four individuals, including three doctors, were charged as part of today’s announcements.  Additionally, three doctors have pleaded guilty as a result of the April ARPO Takedown.

Dr. Michael Shramowiat, 66, of Vienna, West Virginia was charged with allegedly unlawfully distributing controlled substance without a legitimate medical purpose.  This case was investigated by the DEA, HHS-OIG and Hurricane Police Department.  The case is being prosecuted by Assistant Chief Kilby Macfadden and Trial Attorney Sean O’Connell of the Fraud Section.

Dr. Ricky Houdersheldt, 67, of Ona, West Virginia, was charged with allegedly unlawfully distributing controlled substance without a legitimate medical purpose.  This case was investigated by the DEA, HHS-OIG and Hurricane Police Department.  These cases are being prosecuted by Assistant Chief Kilby Macfadden and Trial Attorney Sean O’Connell of the Fraud Section.

Dr. Sriramloo Kesari, 77, of Charleston, West Virginia, was charged with allegedly unlawfully distributing controlled substance without a legitimate medical purpose.  This case was investigated by the DEA, HHS-OIG and Hurricane Police Department.  These cases are being prosecuted by Assistant Chief Kilby Macfadden and Trial Attorney Sean O’Connell of the Fraud Section.

Julie Wheeler, 43, of Oak Hill, West Virginia, owner and operator of JRW Homecare Support Services, was charged with health care fraud.  The charge stems from Wheeler’s scheme to defraud the Veterans Health Administration’s Spina Bifida Health Care Benefits Program.  The U.S. Veterans Affairs-CID investigated the case.  The case is being prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorney Erik Goes of the Southern District of West Virginia.

On Sept. 3, 2019, Marc Spelar, 37, of Huntington, West Virginia, a psychiatrist, pleaded guilty to one count of illegal drug distribution charged in an April 2019 indictment.  The charges stem from Spelar’s unlawful distribution of Schedule II narcotics, including dextroamphetamine, methylphenidate and amphetamine salt to a patient who did not have a medical need for the drugs.  Spelar did not perform examinations of any kind prior to dispensing the narcotics even though the patient had a history of abusing narcotics.  Spelar no longer has his medical license or his DEA registration.  The DEA and HHS-OIG investigated this case.  The case is being prosecuted by Assistant Chiefs Kilby Macfadden and Daniel Griffin of the Fraud Section.

On Sept. 23, 2019, Dr. Jeffery Addison, 64, of Charleston, West Virginia, pleaded guilty to conspiracy distribution of controlled substance without a legitimate medical purpose.  The DEA and HHS-OIG investigated the case.  The case is being prosecuted by Assistant Chief Kilby Macfadden and Trial Attorney Sean O’Connell.

On Aug. 22, 2019, Dr. Muhammed Samer Nasher-Alneam, 47, of Charleston, West Virginia, pleaded guilty to illegal distribution of controlled substances without legitimate medical purposes.  Nasher admitted to prescribing methadone pills outside of the bounds of professional medical practice and not for legitimate medical purposes.  Pursuant to his guilty plea, Nasher agreed to permanently surrender both his medical license and DEA registration.  He further agreed to never seek reinstatement of a license to practice as a medical doctor in West Virginia or any other state.   The FBI, DEA, HHS-OIG, the DOL-Office of Inspector General, the West Virginia State Police and the West Virginia Insurance Commission investigated the case.  The case is being prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorneys Alan McGonigal, Jennifer Herrald and Steve Loew of the Southern District of West Virginia.

In the Eastern District of Tennessee, two medical doctors were charged.  Additionally, one physician charged in April has pleaded guilty.

Frank McNeil, M.D., 78, of Knoxville, Tennessee, was charged with one count of unlawful distribution of controlled substances.  The charges stem from McNeil’s role in prescribing high doses of opioids with no medical legitimacy, while failing to perform urine drug screens and obtain any imaging.  The DEA, TBI, FBI and HHS-OIG investigated the case.  The case is being prosecuted by Trial Attorney Louis Manzo of the Fraud Section and Assistant U.S. Attorney Anne-Marie Svolto of the Eastern District of Tennessee. 

Samuel Mcgaha, M.D., 69, of Sevierville, Tennessee, was charged with one count of unlawful distribution of controlled substances.  The charges stem from Mcgaha’s role as a family practitioner in Morristown, Tennessee, who prescribed opioids and other medications without a legitimate medical purpose.  The DEA, TBI, FBI and HHS-OIG investigated the case.  The case is being prosecuted by Trial Attorney Louis Manzo of the Fraud Section and Assistant U.S. Attorney Anne-Marie Svolto of the Eastern District of Tennessee. 

In addition, on Aug. 13, 2019, Harrison Yang, M.D., 75, of Manchester, Tennessee, pleaded guilty to one count of making a false statement relating to a health care matter charged in an April 2019 indictment as part of the coordinated action in April.  The charges stem from Yang writing prescriptions for opioids that had no legitimate medical purpose and that were outside the usual course of professional practice.  The case is being prosecuted by Trial Attorney Lou Manzo and Assistant Chief Drew Bradylyons of the Fraud Section and Assistant U.S. Attorney Scott Winne of the Eastern District of Tennessee.

In the Western District of Tennessee, one defendant was charged.  Additionally, three medical professionals have pleaded guilty.

Erin Pealor, 35, of Memphis, was charged with nine counts of attempting to acquire or obtain a controlled substance by misrepresentation by fraud, forgery, deception or subterfuge.  The charges stem from Pealor’s role in knowingly and intentionally attempting to obtain Schedule II controlled substances, namely Ritalin, Adderall, Methylin and Methylphenidate, by fraud, forgery, deception and subterfuge, by filling out prescriptions with false and fraudulent patient names and forging the signature of a physician.  This case was brought with the assistance of the DEA and the State of Tennessee-OIG.  The case is being prosecuted by Trial Attorney Ann Weber Langley of the Fraud Section and Assistant U.S. Attorney Mark Erskine of the Western District of Tennessee.

In addition, several indictments brought in the coordinated action in April 2019 have already resulted in guilty pleas.  On July 22, 2019, Michael Hellman, a physician, pleaded guilty to one count of distribution of a controlled substance and one count of conspiracy to distribute a controlled substance.  These charges stem from Hellman prescribing Percocet and Promethazine with Codeine outside the scope of professional practice and not for a legitimate medical purpose.  The case is being prosecuted by Trial Attorney Jillian Willis and Assistant U.S. Attorney Gregory Allen of the Western District of Tennessee. 

On April 16, 2019, Kathryn Russell, a nurse practitioner who practiced in Memphis, Tennessee, pleaded guilty to conspiracy to unlawfully distribute controlled substances.  Russell wrote prescriptions for opioids that had no legitimate medical purpose and that were outside the usual course of professional practice.  In an eight-week period, Russell prescribed more than 7,800 oxycodone pills, more than 6,000 benzodiazepine pills, and more than 1,000 pills of carisoprodol.

On Sept. 19, 2019, Michelle Bonifield, a Bells pharmacy technician pleaded guilty to filling an opioid prescription without a legitimate medical purpose while working at Mehr Drug Store. 

In the Northern District of Alabama, one defendant charged in April 2019 has pleaded guilty.

On Aug. 6, 2019, Christopher Wray, of Arab, Alabama, a prescription forger, pleaded guilty to twelve counts of obtaining a controlled substance by misrepresentation, fraud, forgery or deception.  Previously charged in an April 2019 indictment, the charges stem from a forgery scheme to use a local doctor’s name and DEA number to fraudulently obtain over a thousand opioids and other controlled substances.  The case was investigated by the DEA with assistance from the Guntersville Police Department.  The case is being handled by Trial Attorney Devon Helfmeyer of the Fraud Section.

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The charges and allegations contained in the indictments are merely accusations.  The defendants are presumed innocent until and unless proven guilty.

The Fraud Section leads the ARPO Strike Force.  Since its inception in October 2018, the ARPO Strike Force, which operates in 10 districts, has charged more than 70 defendants who are collectively responsible for distributing more than 40 million pills. 

Source: Department of Justice. This site is made available by CHINA NEWS – Professional Chinese Press Release Distribution service, Great China and Asia PR service provider. 【专业中文新闻稿发布,大中华地区及亚洲网络公关服务商】。

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