According to a press release from the U.S. Attorney's Office for the Northern District of Georgia, federal law enforcement officers arrested five people last week connected to an alleged "pill mill" in the Atlanta, Georgia area. The five defendants are the owners, manager, and doctor at the Atlanta Medical Group, a pain clinic that prosecutors allege was illegally distributing Oxycodone. According to the indictment, Jason Cole Votrobek, Jesse Violante, and Roland Rafael Castellanos provided the financing and were responsible for operating the clinic; Tara Atkins worked as the office manager; and Dr. James Chapman was the primary physician on staff.
The investigation suggests that Dr. Chapman was seeing as many patients as possible in order to maximize profits since most of the Oxycodone was dispensed on site. The indictment further alleges that patients were not given proper medical examinations prior to receiving their prescriptions and that non-medical staff helped with medical procedures so that the clinic could see even more patients. The defendants may have pocketed millions of dollars in just one year. The five defendants are now facing drug and money laundering charges in federal court.
These arrests illustrate how law enforcement and prosecutors are increasing their focus on stopping the illegal distribution of prescription drugs. As John S. Comer of the DEA stated in discussing the investigation, "those involved in 'pill mill' activity are in fact drug dealers." Law enforcement is also focusing on illegal prescription drugs because of the consequences of abuse of pain medications. Overdose deaths caused by prescription pain killers have increased four-fold from 1999 and now account for more overdose deaths in the U.S. than heroin and cocaine combined.
Investigations into these "pill mills" frequently involve many different law enforcement organizations. For example, in the Atlanta Medical Group case, the FBI, the Georgia Bureau of Investigation, Drug Enforcement Administration, Bartow County Sheriff's Office, and the IRS all participated in the investigation.
The penalties these defendants are facing are severe, and this case illustrates that not only are the doctors and clinic owners exposed to potential criminal action, but the staff can be exposed to criminal action as well. Federal law provides a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison for illegal distribution of a controlled substance such as Oxycodone, and even more time could be warranted if the medicine distributed results in someone's death. Additionally, the charges for money laundering also carry fines and a maximum penalty of 20 years imprisonment. As the government continues to crack down on suspected pill mills, many more people could be facing these serious charges.