This week, two physicians turned themselves in to federal authorities on charges stemming from an alleged drug distribution conspiracy. Federal prosecutors claim that the two men, Dr. William Richardson and Dr. Nevorn Askari, were involved in a conspiracy to distribute painkillers in metro Atlanta “pill mills.” The charges against the men include both conspiracy to distribute illegal drugs and money laundering. The two men were released on their own recognizance while they await trial, though the magistrate judge who granted their bond did restrict their ability to prescribe painkillers.
According to the government, Richardson and Askari were physicians working out of three clinic locations doing business as Atlanta Medical Research Clinic (AMRC). The clinic was owned by Godfrey Ilonzo of Alpharetta, whose wife Bona Ilonzo acted as office manager. They government claims that the four conspired to illegally prescribe the painkiller Oxycodone and anti-anxiety drug Alprazolam to addicts and dealers, without taking medical histories, performing physical exams, or providing adequately explaining other possible treatment options. Patients were reportedly not given exact times for their appointments and were made to wait in their cars until called to come in.
In addition to the drug-related activities, prosecutors also claim that the four individuals laundered money by operating entirely on a cash basis. If true, this would have potentially helped Ilonzo to disguise the volume of drugs sold and the identities of those who were purchasing them. It would also, of course, make it easier to under-report revenues and avoid tax payments. Together, the drug conspiracy and money laundering charges could result in prison sentences of up to 20 years each, and up to $250,000 in criminal fines.
In the past couple of years, the Department of Justice has made a major target of pain clinics, and have prosecuted doctors, pharmacists, and business owners with serious charges including drug trafficking, racketeering, and money laundering. The government has done this despite the fact that licensed and qualified physicians are performing medical examinations and diagnosing patients before prescribing any medications. While these clinics do often cater to low-income individuals and operate volume practices to keep prices low, it is often far from clear that the prescribing physicians or the clinic owners have broken any law.
Charges of illegal prescription drug distribution can absolutely be defended against successfully. Just last year, our Georgia criminal lawyers won the trial of a Georgia physician facing thirty-three felony counts of distributing blank prescriptions. We have successfully represented and counseled numerous other physicians charged with over-prescribing medications or facing state or federal investigations. Because of the potentially large penalties, anyone charged with drug trafficking should immediately seek representation from an attorney experienced in this complex area of law.