New Jersey doctors sentenced to five years in prison in online pill mill case
A New Jersey doctor was sentenced to five years in prison for this role in a multi-state drug conspiracy that sent millions of dollars of highly addictive prescription painkillers across the country, said Steven M. Dettelbach, United States Attorney for the Northern District of Ohio.
U.S. District Judge Solomon Oliver sentenced Dr. Terence Sasaki to 60 months in prison and ordered him to pay $59,133 in restitution. Sasaki was convicted on charges of conspiracy to distribute controlled substances and conspiracy to launder money.
Thirteen people have now been sentenced for their roles in the drug conspiracy, including doctors, pharmacists, a call-center manager and others.
“This is one of the more egregious pill mill cases we have ever come across,” 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.”
Kathy A. Enstrom, Special Agent in Charge, IRS Criminal Investigation said: “This is an important victory for the citizens of Northern Ohio. These individuals not only fueled the prescription drug problem in Northern Ohio, but they supported addiction in several parts of the country. As a result of this joint investigative effort, not only are numerous criminals in prison for their crimes, but the government has seized a significant portion of the illegal proceeds through asset forfeiture.”
Pharmacist Vinesh Darji was sentenced last year to nearly five years in prison for his conviction on conspiracy to distribute controlled substances.
Audrey Barbara Rovedo was sentenced last year to more than six years in prison for convictions on conspiracy to distribute controlled substances and conspiracy to launder money.
Rovedo, a manager at Delta Health, is 65 and lived in Jacksonville, Fla. Sasaki, 42, lives in Jersey City, N.J. and Darji, 43, lived in Tampa, Fla., according to public records.
James Hazelwood in 2012 was sentenced to more than eight years in prison and ordered to pay $3.8 million in restitution.
Hazelwood, 44, of Cumming, Ga., previously 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.
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’ web sites or call centers, according to court documents.
Hazelwood controlled most aspects of the drug trafficking organization. He set up and maintained web sites, including usmedsovernight.com, verybestmeds.com and mydoctorconsultonline.com, 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 DEA registration number of a doctor. Customer, 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, the customer 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.
This case was prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorneys Rebecca Lutzko and Edward Feran following an investigation by the Drug Enforcement Administration, the Internal Revenue Service and the Medina County Drug Enforcement Task Force.
The cooperation of the U.S. Attorney’s offices in Jacksonville, Florida; Tampa, Florida, Atlanta; Puerto Rico, New Orleans and New York City was instrumental in the arrests, searches and initial court appearances in this case.