February 18, 2011
Defendants Owned and Worked at Seven Area Clinics that Prescribed over 660,000 Pills, Profited More than $22 Million
Wifredo A. Ferrer, United States Attorney for the Southern District of Florida, Mark R. Trouville, Special Agent in Charge, Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), Miami Field Division, Daniel Auer, Special Agent in Charge, Internal Revenue Service (IRS) Criminal Investigation, announce the indictment of six South Florida residents for their participation in the illegal distribution of pain killers. This prosecution, dubbed Operation Snake Oil, targets the owners and operator of seven pain clinics located in Broward and Miami-Dade Counties.
Charged in the indictment are Vincent Colangelo, 42, of Davie, Nicholaus Thomas, 28, of Fort Lauderdale, Rachel Bass, 27, of Pompano Beach, Michael Plesak, 26, of Plantation, Jeremiah Flowers, 31, of Fort Meyers, and Wayne Richards, 45, of Lighthouse Point. Five of the six have been arrested. Defendant Flowers remains at-large.
Specifically, the indictment charges all six defendants with conspiring to distribute and dispense more than 660,000 dosage units of oxycodone. In addition, three defendants (Colangelo, Plesak and Bass) are charged with one count of conspiring to launder the proceeds of the pain clinics and twenty-six counts of money laundering. Lastly, the indictment seeks forfeiture of more than $22 million in cash and assets. Among the assets sought to be forfeited are more than 46 vehicles and vessels, including a Mercedes-Benz SLR Mclaren, numerous Dodge Vipers, and two Lamborghinis, as well as expensive real estate and a trailer park in Okeechobee.
According to the indictment, the defendants operated the clinics as pill mills that offered patients prescriptions for oxycodone and other controlled substances where there was no legitimate medical purpose and not within the usual course of professional medical practice. The indictment alleges that the defendants marketed the clinics through more than 1,600 internet sites, required immediate cash payments from patients for a clinic "visit fee," directed the patients to obtain MRIs that the defendants knew to be inferior, over-aggressively interpreted MRIs in order to justify prescriptions, and falsified patients' urine tests for a fee to justify the highly addictive pain medications.
U.S. Attorney Wifredo A .Ferrer stated, "According to recent estimates, Florida prescribes ten times more oxycodone pills than all other states combined. Operation Snake Oil is part of our concerted effort to keep South Florida from drowning in pill mills. Working together with our state and local partners, we are shutting down these shady storefronts through the systematic prosecution of doctors, clinic owners and operators who deal drugs while hiding behind a medical license."
"Prescription drug abuse is our country's fastest growing drug problem, and pill mills such as those in Florida are fueling much of that growth. As a result, citizens in communities across Florida and around the nation are faced with growing drug addiction that is accompanied by pain, suffering, and even death," said DEA Administrator Michele M. Leonhart. "Rogue doctors who run these operations violate their professional oaths and are, in fact, drug dealers. Florida today is "ground zero" in the fight against pill mills, and we are determined to continue to aggressively pursue those who are responsible for this nationwide epidemic."
IRS Special Agent in Charge Daniel W. Auer stated, "We are pleased to have lent our financial investigative expertise to this investigation. IRS-CI's role was to trace the flow of the monies derived from the illegal operation of these pill mills, to identify the individuals who profited from these illegal activities and to help seize any assets purchased using the ill-gotten gains."
According to the indictment, demand of oxycodone has grown to epidemic proportions in South Florida and other parts of the United States, where drug dealers can sell a 30 mg oxycodone pill on the street for $10 to $30 or more. Oxycodone has a high potential for abuse and can be crushed snorted, or dissolved and injected, to get an immediate high. This abuse can lead to addiction, overdose, and sometimes death.
Today's case, dubbed Operation Snake Oil, is a result of the ongoing efforts by the Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Force (OCDETF), a partnership between federal, state and local law enforcement agencies. The OCDETF mission is to identify, investigate, and prosecute high level members of drug trafficking enterprises, bringing together the combined expertise and unique abilities of federal, state and local law enforcement.
In addition, DEA is spearheading Operation Pill Nation, an effort to disrupt and dismantle pill mills in South Florida. Additional agencies participating in Operation Pill Nation are the Palm Beach State Attorney's Office, the Broward State Attorney's Office, the Miami-Dade State Attorney's Office, the Broward County Sheriff's Office, Palm Beach County Sherriff's Office, Florida Department of Law Enforcement, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services - Office of Inspector General, Fort Lauderdale Police Department, Hollywood Police Department, Florida Highway Patrol, Palm Beach Gardens Police Department, Miami-Dade Police Department, Florida Department of Health, and Florida Department of Financial Services' Division of Insurance Fraud, State Fire Marshal and Workers' Compensation.
Previously, on July 2, 2010, a doctor and his wife (Dr. Algirdas Krisciunas and Maria Teresa Bulich) were convicted on charges of conspiracy to unlawfully dispense oxycodone and of five counts of unlawfully dispensing oxycodone, in violation of Title 21, United States Code, Sections 846 and 841, respectively. According to the evidence presented at trial, Dr. Krisciunas was prescribing oxycodone to people seeking narcotic drugs, without any medical necessity whatsoever. Krisciunas and Bulich then sold the pills from an on-premises dispensary. The quantities prescribed for patients were so large as to be potentially life-threatening, and were totally unjustified by the cursory physical exams the doctor conducted. Bulich ostensibly owned the clinic, and ordered and maintained custody of all the narcotics, even though she had no training as a pharmacist or pharmacy technician. On Oct. 13, 2010, defendant Krisciunas was sentenced to 97 months' imprisonment. On Nov. 14, 2010, defendant Bulich was sentenced to 78 months' imprisonment.
U.S. Attorney Wifredo Ferrer commended the investigative efforts of the DEA, IRS, and BSO, as well as the many other state and local agencies involved in these operations. The federal case announced today is being prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorney Scott Behnke and Tax Division Trial Attorney Gregory Tortella.
An indictment is merely an accusation and the defendants are assumed innocent until proven guilty.
A copy of this press release may be found on the website of the United States Attorney's Office for the Southern District of Florida at http://www.usdoj.gov/usao/fls. Related court documents and information may be found on the website of the District Court for the Southern District of Florida at http://www.flsd.uscourts.gov or on http://pacer.flsd.uscourts.gov.
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