By George F. Indest III, J.D., M.P.A., LL.M., Board Certified by The Florida Bar in Health Law
On October 7, 2020, two owners of a medical practice in Tampa, Florida, were sentenced to federal prison time for their roles in the illegal distribution of opioids. U.S. District Judge Mary S. Scriven sentenced Ernest Gonzalez to 46 months and Rosa Colon to 24 months in federal prison for conspiracy to distribute and dispense controlled substances for no legitimate medical purpose.
Plot to Illegally Distribute Controlled Substances.
According to court documents, Gonzalez served as the president and owner of Health and Pain Center (HPC), a Tampa pain management clinic. In June 2011, he transferred his executive title and ownership of HPC to Colon. The Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) obtained a warrant in October 2016, while both were active participants of the administration and management of HPC.
The two owners allegedly hired physicians at HPC, who routinely prescribed controlled substances to patients eeking pain mediciations. Federal authorities always allege that such prescriptions are “outside the scope of professional (medical) practice.” Additionally, the owners are alleged to have participated and facilitated the physicians’ illegal prescribing practices by instructing employees to overlook failed urinalysis screens that help to detect drug abusers.
According to court papers, the owners also obtained MRI studies and other documents that the physicians used to justify the high volume of opioid prescriptions. According to court documents, the owners operated HPC as a cash-only business with little to no medical equipment on-site and staff with no medical training.
The owners pled guilty on September 11, 2018. It is unclear as to why they were not sentenced until October 7, 2020. As part of their sentences, the court entered money judgments of $47,780.96 against Gonzalez and $765,356.76 against Colon. This was in addition to the prison time stated above.
The facts above are typical of those in other state and federal prosecutions against physicians, pharmacists, and clinic owners. If you are a physician who is working for a clinic owned by non-physicians, you need to be very careful that you are working for a legitimate organization. If you are being pressured to write prescriptions for narcotics for patients, you need to be very careful about what you do and why you do it. Often physicians who work for pill mills just bury their heads in the sand and rationalize why they are writing and refilling the same prescriptions for opioids month after month.
For the past ten years, in Florida, the DEA, the Department of Health, the state Attorney General, and multi-jurisdictional task forces have been targeting physicians who write prescriptions for narcotics and pharmacies that fill such prescriptions. There are very few left. The cross-hairs of the regulators and law enforcement are now targeting those who are involved in only very small quantities. Watch out, it could be you next!
View the press release issued by the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Middle District of Florida.
Read my prior blog and learn more about pill mills, here.
Contact Health Law Attorneys Experienced with DEA Cases.
The attorneys of The Health Law Firm are experienced in handling Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) cases, board of medicine cases, and board of pharmacy case, Department of Health (DOH) investigations, and Department of Regulatory Agencies (DORA) investigations, regarding allegations of over-prescribing and illegal prescribing. If you are currently being investigated or facing other adverse actions by the DEA or a state licensing board, contact one of our attorneys by calling (407) 331-6620 or toll-free at (888) 331-6620. You can also visit our website for more information at www.TheHealthLawFirm.com.
“Tampa Pill Mill Owners Sentenced To Prison For Illegal Distribution Of Opioids.” Tampa Free Press. (October 11, 2020). Web.
Otero, Sebastian. “Tampa pill mill owners sentenced to prison for illegal distribution of opioids.” ABC 7 WWSB. (October 8, 2020). Web.
About the Author: George F. Indest III, J.D., M.P.A., LL.M., is Board Certified by The Florida Bar in Health Law. He is the President and Managing Partner of The Health Law Firm, which has a national practice. Its main office is in the Orlando, Florida area. www.TheHealthLawFirm.com The Health Law Firm, 1101 Douglas Ave. Suite 1000, Altamonte Springs, FL 32714, Phone: (407) 331-6620 Toll-Free: (888) 331-6620
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