7 Arrested In U.S. & Italy For Pill Mill Scheme in Florida, Tennessee That Took 700 Lives
Federal prosecutors recently announced that five U.S. residents and two people from Italy had been charged in a “pill mill” drug trafficking conspiracy to distribute opioids in Tennessee and Florida, an action that led to hundreds of overdose deaths.
The indictments allege that the defendants set up a pill mill scheme in the United States, and state that they ran the Urgent Care & Surgery Center Enterprise, an operation that distributed enough morphine, oxycodone, and oxymorphone to produce a revenue of at least $21 million.
Around 700 of those center patients are now dead, and a Justice Department news release stated that a “significant percentage of those deaths, directly or indirectly, were the result of overdosing on narcotics” prescribed by the center.
The scheme also involved illegal kickbacks and money laundering, prosecutors alleged.
U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions from a news release:
“Throughout this country, and certainly in Tennessee and Florida, the illegal and unconscionable mass-distribution of prescription opioids through the operation of illegal pain clinics has taken a heavy toll on our citizens, families, and communities. This sort of profiteering effectively trades human lives for financial riches.”
Luca Sartini, 58, and Luigi Palma, 51, were arrested last week in Rome by Italian law enforcement. Officials in the U.S. are seeking extradition. Benjamin Rodriguez, 42, of Delray Beach, Florida, and four Knoxville, Tennessee residents (Sylvia Hofstetter, 53; Courtney Newman, 42; Cynthia Clemons, 45; and Holli Womack, 44) were also charged.
Hofstetter, Palma, Rodriquez, Sartini, and a co-conspirator who is charged in another indictment ran the center’s pain management clinics from April 2009-March 2015, according to prosecutors.
Allegedly, the defendant hired medical providers with DEA registration, which permitted them to prescribe the drugs. The clinics were cash-only “where powerful narcotics were prescribed and/or dispensed” and ordered unneeded drug screenings, thus defrauding Medicare.
Often, patients arrived in groups and were supported by drug dealers who paid for clinic visits and opioid prescriptions, according to the indictment. In return, patients would receive some of the prescribed painkillers.
Around 30 drug traffickers and 80-90 smaller narcotics distributors have been charged and convicted as part of an investigation by the Opioid Fraud and Abuse Task Force Initiative, according to the Justice Department.
~ G. Nathalee Serrels, M.A, Psychology