four pulasky county residents plead guilty to distributing prescription drugs over the internet
SPRINGFIELD, Mo. – Beth Phillips, United States Attorney for the Western District of Missouri, announced today that four more Pulaski County, Mo., residents have pleaded guilty in federal court to their roles in a scheme to distribute prescription drugs through Internet pharmacy Web sites.
Yvonna G. Bays, 49, of Waynesville, Mo., pleaded guilty today before U.S. Magistrate Judge James C. England. Mark E. Fitzgerald, 39, and his wife, Nance R. Fitzgerald, 40, both of Eldon, Mo., pleaded guilty on Tuesday, June 21, 2011. Clifton Thibodeaux, Jr., 36, of St. Robert, Mo., pleaded guilty on June 16, 2011. All four of the co-defendants admitted that they operated Web sites as part of an illegal Internet pharmacy business.
Mark and Nance Fitzgerald each pleaded guilty to aiding and abetting the distribution of hydrocodone. According to the plea agreements, the Fitzgeralds’ Web site earned $3,000-$4,000 per month, with about 80 to 100 customers generating 20-22 prescriptions each week.
On Jan. 18, 2011, Anthony D. Holman, 36, and his wife, Arcelia Holman, 43, both formerly of St. Robert, Mo., pleaded guilty to participating in a conspiracy to distribute such prescription drugs as hydrocodone, alprazolam and zolpidem by using fraudulent prescriptions obtained through the Web sites they operated, beginning sometime in 2005 and continuing to April 27, 2007. On four occasions from January through April 2007, they sold hydrocodone to undercover law enforcement agents through the Web site. They also pleaded guilty to their roles in a money-laundering conspiracy related to financial transactions that involved the proceeds of the drug-trafficking conspiracy.
On April 6 and Aug. 17, 2007, the Fitzgeralds aided and abetted others in the distribution of hydrocodone to an undercover law enforcement agent through their Web site. Although the DEA conducted searches and seizures of the Holmans’ residence and business on April 27, 2007, and the Holmans’ Web site was shut down that day when their business and bank accounts were seized, the Fitzgeralds continued to operate their Internet pharmacy business. The Fitzgeralds’ Web site remained in operation, selling prescriptions for controlled substances, until investigators served a federal search warrant at their residence on Oct. 16, 2007.
After investigators served the search warrants, they made contact with the FedEx driver who made deliveries to the Fitzgeralds’ address. The investigators recovered from FedEx 10 envelopes that were to be delivered that day. Each of the envelopes, which were from 10 different customers in nine different states, contained a money order, totaling $1,874.
According to the plea agreements, the prescriptions were filled by a pharmacy in Burlington, Wash., owned by Charles Reed. Reed, who was paid $15 for each prescription he filled, pleaded guilty to the unlawful distribution of controlled substances.
Thibodeaux pleaded guilty to concealing material facts. He learned about the business from his sister, Arcelia Holman, who operated their business down the street from him. Thibodeaux distributed hydrocodone to an undercover law enforcement agent through his Web site.
After the DEA conducted searches and seizures of the Holmans’ residence and business, Thibodeaux took computers and other medical records associated with these Internet pharmacy businesses, and left the state of Missouri in order to conceal this material from federal law enforcement agents.
Bays pleaded guilty to aiding and abetting the distribution of hydrocodone. Bays admitted that she co-owned and operated two Web sites with co-defendant Marvin Eugene Nelson, 63, of Waynesville, Mo., as part of an illegal Internet pharmacy business. According to the plea agreement, Bays ran the day-to-day operations of the Web site and signed employees’ paychecks. Prescriptions from the Web sites of Bays and Nelson were also filled by Reed.
Bays aided and abetted in the distribution of hydrocodone to an undercover law enforcement agent through her Web site. She continued to operate her Internet pharmacy business after the Holmans’ business was shut down, until investigators served a federal search warrant on Oct. 16, 2007.
Nelson pleaded guilty on Nov. 22, 2010, to his role in the conspiracy. Nelson co-owned and operated another Web site that illegally distributed hydrocodone.
According to the federal indictment, customers usually began by filling out an online “medical history questionnaire” and submitting medical records via fax. Customers paid for an “initial consultation” via credit card or cash on delivery (C.O.D.); medical insurance was not accepted. The identity of the customer, the medical information in the questionnaire, and the medical records were not verified. During a telephone consultation with a physician or physician assistant, the customer would state what controlled substance he wanted to order, which the person conducting the consultation would then recommend be prescribed for the customer. That recommendation, along with the customer information, would then be forwarded to a physician who worked for the Internet pharmacy Web site operation.
The physicians or physician assistants who conducted the consultations had no face-to-face contact with the customers, did not verify the clients’ identities or age, did not conduct any physical examinations or testing, did not verify any medical records and often were not licensed in the states in which the customers resided, the indictment alleges. The physicians or physician assistants conducting the consultations had no pre-existing physician-patient relationship with any customer, and did not communicate with anyone who did, before approving prescription drug orders for the customers.
Physicians and physician assistants were paid a fee for each consultation and prescription, according to the indictment. Licensed pharmacists located across the United States were recruited and paid to fill drug orders. These orders were usually faxed to the pharmacies from the Missouri-based operation centers. The pharmacies would fill the prescription in the customer’s name and ship it to the customer.
This case is being prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorneys Kate Mahoney and Randall D. Eggert. It was investigated by the Drug Enforcement Administration, the South Central Missouri Drug Task Force and IRS-Criminal Investigation.