Pharmacy Operators, Patient Recruiter Charged in a Nearly $800,000 Illegal Opioid Distribution Conspiracy
DETROIT - An indictment was unsealed today charging two patient recruiters and the owner and operators of a pharmacy with conspiracy to illegally distribute prescription drugs, and other opioid-related charges, Acting U.S. Attorney Saima Mohsin announced today.
Mohsin was joined in the announcement by Special Agent in Charge Timothy Waters, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Detroit Division, and Special Agent in Charge Lamont Pugh III of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office of Inspector General’s (HHS-OIG) Chicago Regional Office.
Charged in the indictment are:
Dangelo Terrell Stephens, 38, of Detroit;
Latasha Maria Neely, 38, of Detroit;
Hassan Samir Saad, 33, of Dearborn; and
Ali Hussein Keblawi, 26, of Dearborn.
The indictment alleges that from June 2020 through July 2021, Stephens and Neely worked as patient recruiters/marketers, who would bring “patients” or patient information to area doctors and clinics. Those doctors and clinics, which include the owner, operators, and physician at Tranquility Wellness Center, who have been indicted in a companion case, would write or cause the writing of controlled substance prescriptions in the “patient” names, without medical necessity and outside the scope of professional medical practice, in exchange for cash payments.
As part of the conspiracy, Stephens and Neely needed the cooperation of area pharmacies, including their owners and employees. Saad was a licensed pharmacy technician who worked at and owned Heritage Medical Pharmacy, LLC, in Redford, Michigan. Keblawi was an employee at Heritage. In exchange for cash, Saad and Keblawi filled the unlawful prescriptions obtained by Stephens and dispensed, or caused the dispensing, of controlled substances to Stephens, and not to the patients to which they were prescribed. And Saad and Keblawi knew that the prescriptions were illegitimate, and, by dispensing the controlled substances, they failed to exercise their corresponding professional responsibility to determine that the prescriptions were issued for a legitimate medical purpose. Stephens and Neely then sold the controlled substances on the street.
The primary prescription drug-controlled substances illegally prescribed, filled at pharmacies, and distributed included Schedule II controlled substances Oxycodone, Oxymorphone, and Oxycodone-Acetaminophen (Percocet). These drugs were in high demand on the illegal street market, particularly Oxycodone 30mg and Oxymorphone 40mg.
Stephens is also charged with three counts of distributing Oxycodone pills, and Stephens, Saad, and Keblawi are charged with one count of distributing and aiding and abetting the distribution of Oxycodone pills.
According to the indictment, Stephens and Neely unlawfully distributed a combined total of more than 28,000 dosage units of Schedule II opioid prescriptions during the conspiracy. These controlled substances had a conservative street value more than $775,000.
Also, during the conspiracy, Saad and Keblawi unlawfully dispensed a combined total of more than 5,500 dosage units of Schedule II controlled substances, carrying a conservative estimated wholesale street value of more than $150,000.
While most of the unlawful controlled substance prescriptions were paid for in cash, both controlled and non-controlled “maintenance” medications were billed to health care benefit programs by pharmacies. Billings to the Medicare and Medicaid programs for medically unnecessary prescription drug medications and maintenance medications during this conspiracy exceeded $200,000
“The road to addiction often begins with prescription drugs, “said Acting US Attorney Mohsin. “It is for this reason we are focusing our efforts on removing individuals who contribute to the devastating opioid crisis in this country,”
“The FBI is focused on stemming the supply of illegal opioids into our communities, especially those illegally distributed by doctors and clinics,” said Timothy Waters, Special Agent in Charge of the FBI’s Detroit Division. “While we continue to work with our partners to combat this crisis that devastates communities, we ask for the public’s help by reporting any information related to the illegal sale and distribution of opioids.”
“The investigation into the unlawful prescribing and distribution of medically unnecessary controlled and/or non-controlled substances remains a priority of the OIG,” said Lamont Pugh III, Special Agent in Charge, U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, Office of Inspector General – Chicago Region. “The opioid epidemic is only exacerbated by those who seek profit over the health and safety of their patients. The OIG will continue to work with our law enforcement partners to identify instances where providers engage in the illegal distribution of opioids and waste vital taxpayer dollars.”
This case is being prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorneys Andrew J. Lievense and Alison Furtaw. The Eastern District of Michigan is one of the twelve districts included in the Opioid Fraud Abuse and Detection Unit, a Department of Justice initiative that uses data to target and prosecute individuals that are contributing to the nation’s opioid crisis.
The case was investigated by special agents and task force officers of the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Department of Health and Human Services-Office of the Inspector General.
An indictment is only a charge and is not evidence of guilt. Each defendant is entitled to a fair trial in which it will be the government’s burden to prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.