NOV 20 (CLEVELAND) – The leader of a multi-state drug conspiracy that sent millions of dollars worth of highly addictive prescription painkillers to all 50 states was sentenced to more than eight years in prison and ordered to pay $3.8 million in restitution, said Steven M. Dettelbach, U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Ohio.
“This is one of the more egregious pill mill cases we have ever come across,” U.S. Attorney Dettelbach said. “Prescription drug abuse is a major problem. Whether it is an Internet-based pill mill or a local dentist handing out prescriptions, we are committed to stopping those who illegally distribute drugs.”
Last year, James Hazelwood pleaded guilty to engaging in a continuing criminal enterprise for his role in operating a company that illegally distributed millions of pills of prescription painkillers, including hydrocodone and alprazolam, to drug addicts and recreational drug users who had no medical reason for receiving the pills, federal law enforcement officials announced today. Hazelwood, 42, resides in Cumming, Ga., according to court records.
Hazelwood operated USMeds LLC and later, American Health Alternatives. Hazelwood, through both companies, worked with pharmacists and pharmacies who supplied drugs to the organization, which Hazelwood then distributed to people who contacted him through the companies’ websites or call centers, according to court documents.
Hazelwood controlled most aspects of the drug trafficking organization. He set up and maintained websites to solicit customers to buy hydrocodone and other pills without valid prescriptions, according to court documents.
The transactions were nothing more than illegal customer-dictated drug orders that bore the electronic or handwritten signature and U. S. Drug Enforcement Administration registration number of a doctor. Customers, not doctors, selected the type of controlled substance, quantity and strength to be “prescribed.” Customers paid for their “consultation” and pills up front, via credit card, and medical insurance was not accepted. Doctors signing the drug orders did not physically examine customers or even meet them face-to-face. Instead, after selecting the drug he or she wanted, the customer filled out a brief online questionnaire, had a short “telephone consultation” and the prescription was issued. The conspiring pharmacies then shipped the drugs via FedEx to thousands of customers across the country, according to court records.
In addition to soliciting customers via its web site, Hazelwood’s organization also advertised on billboards in bathroom stalls at bars and nightclubs, at a music festival in Miami and Internet banner ads, among other means, according to court documents.
Because of the makeup of his customer base, the Hazelwood drug trafficking organization charged its customers a price that was multiple times higher than the retail cost of the drugs it provided. The group generally charged $300 for 90 tablets of hydrocodone, plus a $55 “consult” fee, according to court documents.
The activity took place between 2005 and 2009, according to court documents. Thirteen people were convicted for their roles in the drug conspiracy, including doctors, pharmacists, a call-center manager and others.
Last week, Dr. Terence Sasaki, pharmacist Vinesh Darji and Audrey Barbara Rovedo were all convicted on conspiracy to distribute controlled substances. Sasaki and Rovedo were also convicted on a charge of conspiracy to launder money. Darji was convicted on an additional nine counts of unlawful dispensing of hydrocodone, while Rovedo was convicted on 18 counts of the same charge.
All three were ordered detained. They are scheduled to be sentenced Feb. 14, 2013. Rovedo, a manager at Delta Health, is 64 and lives in Jacksonville, Fla. Sasaki, 41, lives in Jersey City, N.J., and Darji, 42, lives in Tampa, Fla., according to public records.
This case is being prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorneys Rebecca Lutzko and Edward Feran following an investigation by the Drug Enforcement Administration, the Internal Revenue Service and the Medina County, Ohio, Drug Enforcement Task Force.The cooperation of the U.S. Attorney’s offices in Jacksonville, Fla.; Tampa; Atlanta; Puerto Rico, New Orleans; and New York City was instrumental in the arrests, searches and initial court appearances in this case.