Defendants Owned and Worked at Seven Area Clinics that Prescribed over 660,000 Pills, Profited More than $22 Million
FORT LAUDERDALE, FL – The United States Attorney for the Southern District, Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), Internal Revenue Service (IRS) Criminal Investigation, announce the indictment of six South Florida residents for their participation in the illegal distribution of pain killers.
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.
This prosecution 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. To read the indictment, click here.
All of the defendants have been charged with conspiring to distribute and dispense more than 660,000 dosage units of oxycodone. Three defendants (Colangelo, Plesak and Bass) are also charged with one count of conspiring to launder the proceeds of the pain clinics and twenty-six counts of money laundering. In addition, 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.
The indictment alleges that the defendants operated the pain 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 says 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.
“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,” said U.S. Attorney Wifredo A. Ferrer.
“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- Criminal Investigations’ 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.
Healthcare Fraud Blog Publisher, Attorney Robert Malove, is an expert criminal trial lawyer as recognized by The Florida Bar. Mr. Malove has extensive experience in the area of pill mill defense. Criminal defense attorney Robert Malove represents the Florida Academy of Pain Medicine, Florida Academy of Physician Assistants, American Academy of Pain Management, and Florida Society of Neurology and has filed an amicus curiae brief in federal court challenging the constitutionality of the Florida statutes regulating the operation of pain clinics, i.e., pill mills.
If you, or someone you know is facing prosecution as a result of aggressive law enforcement activity targeting pain clinics, i.e., pill mills, you need to make sure you hire a criminal defense attorney who is familiar with pill mill defense. For serious pill mill defense, throughout Miami-Dade, Broward and Palm Beach counties, call Florida pill mill defense lawyer Robert Malove immediately.