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Press Release

Former Doctor Sentenced to 78 Months for Drug Offenses Arising From Tabor City Pill Mill

For Immediate Release
U.S. Attorney's Office, Eastern District of North Carolina

NEW BERN, N.C. – A former doctor who operated a “pill mill” in Columbus County, where he improperly prescribed opioids and other controlled substances was sentenced today to 78 months in prison for unlawfully distributing Oxycodone, Hydrocodone, Methadone, and Marijuana.

According to court documents, John Whan Kim, 75, and co-defendant Tammy Thompson, were charged with violating federal drug trafficking laws in a Second Superseding Indictment.  The co-defendant, Thompson, pled guilty to multiple counts and is scheduled to be sentenced later this year.  On December 28, 2021, Kim pled guilty to Conspiracy to Unlawfully Distribute a Quantity of Oxycodone, Hydrocodone, Methadone, and Marijuana, in violation of 21 U.S.C. §846, multiple counts of Unlawful Dispensation and Distribution of Oxycodone, in violation of 21 U.S.C. §841(a)(1), and Distribution of Marijuana and Aiding and Abetting, in violation of 21 U.S.C. §841(a)(1) and 18 U.S.C. §2.  Kim was also required to surrender all medical licenses and is prohibited from ever practicing medicine again.

In March of 2017, Kim was forced to resign from the medical practice where he was previously employed due to concerns over his prescribing practices, particularly opioids.  Kim proceeded to establish his own clinic in Tabor City, NC and from October 2017 to June 28, 2018, Kim unlawfully and improperly prescribed opioids and other controlled substances to “patients” who paid $200 cash at each appointment.  The investigation revealed that Kim often failed to meet the basic standards of legitimate medical care.  Kim wrote controlled substance prescriptions to virtually every patient he saw, often despite not having a patient’s prior medical records, not conducting a real physical examination or considering alternative treatments, and often despite having evidence of patient misuse and diversion. 

Word of Kim’s willingness to improperly prescribe controlled substances spread quickly and people came from across Eastern North Carolina, and even other states to get prescriptions from Kim.  The volume of patients and associated activity that often took place in the parking lot of Kim’s clinic created safety concerns for the adjacent Tabor City Elementary School, which was forced to restrict outdoor activities for students until a privacy fence was constructed. In January 2018, a confidential source began conducting a series of controlled purchases from Kim and Thompson, which were audio and video recorded.  On June 29, 2018, search warrants were executed at Kim’s clinic and residence and Kim and Thompson were arrested.  A medical expert who reviewed Kim’s records found no evidence that Kim was providing real medical care and concluded that Kim was merely exchanging prescriptions for money.

“The defendant abused his position as a doctor to illegally distribute opioids, jeopardizing the safety of the community and the school adjacent to his office,” said Michael Easley, U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of North Carolina. “My office will continue to collaborate with law enforcement at all levels to dismantle criminal organizations that are contributing to the drug problems in eastern North Carolina.”

“When Dr. Kim dispensed nearly 2 million doses of addictive prescription medications under the guise of a doctor’s care, it was not about the good of the community or an individual’s specific health needs – it was about his selfishness and greed,” said Robert J. Murphy, the Special Agent in Charge of the DEA Atlanta Field Division. “DEA and its law enforcement partners will continue to stem the tide against the growing opioid epidemic. Dr. Kim will now serve a lengthy sentence in federal prison.”

Michael Easley, U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of North Carolina made the announcement after sentencing by U.S. District Judge Louise W. Flanagan. The Drug Enforcement Administration’s Charlotte Tactical Diversion Squad, Columbus County Sheriff’s Office, and the North Carolina State Bureau of Investigation, DECU investigated the case and Assistant U.S. Attorneys Nick Miller, Bryan Stephany and Tim Severo prosecuted the case.

Related court documents and information can be found on the website of the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of North Carolina or on PACER by searching for Case No. 7:18-CR-00200-FL.

Updated April 7, 2022

Prescription Drugs