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Benchmark: DEA Conduct Resulted in Dismissed Charges

In light of the DEA‘s recent focus on Florida’s prescription drug trafficking problem, we wanted to discuss a former case in which the DEA‘s actions resulted in a favorable outcome for alleged drug dealers.

According to the Daily Journal, in 2004, U.S. District Judge Florence-Marie Cooper dismissed charges against three alleged methamphetamine dealers after an attorney to one of the defendants argued that the informant improperly relied on a “subinformant” to set up drug transactions in order for DEA agents to bust suspected dealers. According to the attorney, the informant used the intermediary to protect himself and the DEA from entrapment claims. Because of this, defense attorneys could not derive from the primary witness how the drug sale was arranged.

The attorney claimed that the subinformant contacted old friends and acquaintances in low-income areas and informed them of money to be made if they could find a large amount of methamphetamine for a prospective buyer. The informant posed as the buyer. By repeatedly calling these individuals to find a source for the methamphetamine transactions, the subinformant would turn the case over to the informant right before the transaction took place.

In this case, the DEA provided evidence only of the final interactions between the informant and the defendants. The attorney wanted to show that the entrapment actually occurred earlier, when the subinformant allegedly pressured the defendants to complete the methamphetamine deal.

In laying out the subinformant scheme in his discovery motion, the attorney cited phone records between the subinformant and the defendants in his case and in two other methamphetamine cases, U.S v. Parra, 03-CR- 121, and U.S. v. Corcuera, 03-CR-24. In the three cases, the subinformant had regular and frequent contact with the defendants, but the informant had very little or no contact with the defendants before the arrests.

Cooper agreed that the informant used an underling to keep the defense from analyzing the details of the drug deal. According to Cooper, using an intermediary to do the actual work assigned to the informant, allows the DEA to protect itself from inspection and from any charges of improper conduct.

“A law enforcement agency must not be allowed to shield itself from accountability by hiring someone outside of law enforcement who is free to violate citizens’ rights.” U.S. v. Alvarez, 02-CR-355.

With a subinformant, there is no requirement to monitor their actions. The DEA doesn’t tape, keep records or provide discovery for subinformants. The DEA has a history of failing to regulate its informants, including the nationwide Andrew Chambers scandal. An internal investigation launched by the DEA in 2000 revealed that Chambers repeatedly lied under oath over a 16-year period in which he earned almost $2 million to help bust drug felons.

However, even if informants were regulated it wouldn’t prevent subinformants from negotiating the transactions that entrap individuals.

These investigative measures by the DEA are also being used in operations directed at Florida pain clinics. In an effort to rid the state of pill mills, the DEA is using every tool to bust clinics, physicians and pharmacists that might be involved in a suspicious pain clinic.

For more information about legal matters concerning pain clinics, visit www.TheHealthLawFirm.com.

Florida’s Pill Mills Still a Target

Last week, the DEA announced the results of enforcement efforts directed at Florida’s illegal prescription drug distributors.

According to the DEA, more than 100 individuals have been arrested in operations targeting pill mills in Florida, and the DEA, as well as Florida law enforcement, will continue to investigate and prosecute pain clinics, pharmacies and physicians who are contributing to Florida’s prescription drug trafficking epidemic.

Operation Pill Nation I, initiated in February 2011 in South Florida, has resulted in the arrest of 47 people, including 17 doctors and five clinic owners, and the seizure of more than $18.9 million in cash and assets. Furthermore, over 70 doctors, six pharmacy owners and five DEA Registered Controlled Substance Distributors have been stripped of their DEA registrations.

Operation Pill Nation II has resulted in enforcement actions against 22 individuals and one pharmacy allegedly involved in the illegal distribution of prescription drugs.

The DEA also announced the addition of a third Tactical Diversion Squad in Florida. Based in Orlando, this new group will be responsible for investigating prescription drug diversion in Central Florida.

According to the Orlando Sentinel, this new squad was created solely to investigate the illegal use and distribution of prescription drugs in the Orlando area. Currently, the Orlando squad is investigating doctors and pharmacies, their first case involves a Winter Park pharmacy.

Howell Branch Road’s The Medicine Shoppe is under investigation. It’s pharmacist is accused of  providing more than 15,000 oxycodone pills that were illegally distributed.

Coinciding with the DEA’s announcements, was the investigation of Tampa pill mills. DEA agents, and Florida state and local law enforcement executed six search warrants and served two immediate suspension orders to a doctor and a pharmacy in Tampa. Immediate suspension orders revoke authority to dispense or prescribe controlled substances.

Earlier this year, the DEA commissioned a pill mill hotline in Florida. This 24-hour pill mill tip line and e-mail address allow the public to provide information on suspicious pain clinics. Additionally, laws targeting pill mills were passed that makes it much more difficult to dispense narcotics at a clinic. However, the DEA’s raids will continue in order to eradicate Florida’s pill mill problem.

For more information on Florida pain clinics and the laws and legal matters that impact them, visit www.TheHealthLawFirm.com.

George Indest is an attorney, board certified by the Florida Bar in Health Law, who represents health care professionals and providers, including pain management clinics and pain management physicians.

Kissimmee, Pine Hills Pain Clinics Investigated

Clinics in Kissimmee and Pine Hills are under investigation. A doctor involved with the clinics is accused of over-prescribing painkillers and other addictive medicine, according to the Orlando Sentinel.

Drug agents with the Metropolitan Bureau of Investigation collected evidence and talked to patients at the Miracle Health Center/Pine Hills Medical Center, and at the Keneday Medical Clinic.

This doctor has had previous complaints filed against him by The Department of Health (DOH), and he may now face an emergency suspension order (ESO).

Criminal charges have not yet been filed but are expected.

The doctor is under investigation for allegedly prescribing more than 800,000 oxycodone tablets to patients in the last two years.

According to DOH records, the doctor has previously been accused of improperly prescribing painkillers to patients, and the criminal investigation concerning his over-prescribing has been in the works for months.

This investigation and others across Florida are part of a statewide effort to curb Florida’s prescription drug problem. For more information about pain clinics and legal matters involving pain management, visit www.TheHealthLawFirm.com.

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