Tennessee Doctor Pleads Guilty to Hydrocodone Distribution Resulting in Death
A Tennessee physician pleaded guilty today in the Western District of Tennessee to causing the death of one of his patients through his illegal prescribing of hydrocodone.
According to court documents, Thomas K. Ballard III, 63, of Jackson, owned and operated the Ballard Clinic, from which he issued prescriptions for dangerous, addictive controlled pharmaceutical drugs without any legitimate medical purpose. Ballard engaged in inappropriate sexual contact with several female patients while he ignored red flags that they were abusing the medications he prescribed. These abuses were often reflected in Ballard’s own medical records.
Ballard’s treatment records reflected that he believed that a particular patient had psychiatric issues, and that she was abusing her medication, fabricating personal trauma and tampering with drug screens. The records also reflected aberrant drug screens and notations about the patient’s incarceration and receipt of prescriptions elsewhere for suboxone, a drug used to treat opioid dependency disorder. In spite of that history, Ballard prescribed the patient hydrocodone repeatedly, including on May 28, 2015, when Ballard issued her the prescription for the hydrocodone on which she fatally overdosed.
“Today’s plea is a somber reminder of the human cost of illegal prescribing,” said Acting Assistant Attorney General Nicholas L. McQuaid of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division. “Above all, physicians are trusted not to harm their patients. When opioid addictions are fueled at the hands of predatory prescribers, death is all too often the result. The Department of Justice and its law enforcement partners will continue to use all of the tools at our disposal to hold such prescribers accountable.”
“This case represents Tennessee Bureau of Investigation Medicaid Fraud Control Division’s commitment to fighting the opioid epidemic plaguing our state, exposing fraudulent health care schemes, and holding offenders accountable for their dishonest criminal conduct,” said Special Agent-In-Charge Terry L. Reed Sr. of the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation (TBI).
“Ballard has proven himself to be nothing more than a predator in a white lab coat, and he should expect to be punished accordingly,” said Special Agent in Charge J. Todd Scott of the DEA’s Louisville Division. “Doctors take an oath to first do no harm, and instead, Ballard chose to put his own licentious interests above his patients’ well-being.”
“Ballard’s callous disregard for the well-being of his patients and the principles of his profession caused the death of a vulnerable woman and put other lives at risk,” said Special Agent in Charge Derrick L. Jackson with the Department of Health and Human Services Office of Inspector General (HHS-OIG). “The damage he caused is severe and irreparable. HHS-OIG, alongside other law enforcement agencies, works to pursue medical professionals who inflict harm on patients in their care.”
Ballard pleaded guilty to a count of illegal drug distribution resulting in death. He will be sentenced to 20 years in prison, the statutory mandatory minimum, on Sept. 21, if the court accepts his plea agreement. A federal district court judge will determine any non-incarceration aspect of Ballard’s sentence after considering the U.S. Sentencing Guidelines and other statutory factors.
The TBI, DEA, and HHS-OIG investigated the case.
Trial Attorneys Jason Knutson, Drew Pennebaker, and Emily Petro of the Criminal Division’s Fraud Section are prosecuting the case.