Two Top Leaders in Italy and Five Us Residents Indicted for Racketeering, Health Care Fraud, and Drug Trafficking Conspiracies to Distribute Opioids Resulting in Deaths Involving “Pill Mills” Operating in Tennessee and Florida
Investigation is Part of the Attorney General’s Opioid Fraud and Abuse Task Force Initiative
KNOXVILLE, Tenn. – A 14-count superseding indictment, returned by a federal grand jury on January 4, 2018, was unsealed today by the Honorable Thomas A. Varlan, Chief U.S. District Judge. The superseding indictment charges seven individuals for their roles in a Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organization (RICO) and conspiracy to distribute and dispense oxycodone, oxymorphone, and morphine outside the scope of professional practice and not for a legitimate medical purpose and resulting in deaths, maintenance of drug-involved premises, distribution of oxycodone resulting in death, conspiracy to defraud the United States through the solicitation and receipt of illegal healthcare kickbacks, and money laundering.
Individuals charged in the superseding indictment include Luca Sartini, 58, of Rome, Italy, and Miami; Luigi Palma, aka Jimmy Palma, 51, of Rome, Italy, and Miami; Benjamin Rodriguez, 42, of Delray Beach, Florida; Sylvia Hofstetter, 53, of Knoxville, Tennessee; Courtney Newman, 42, of Knoxville; Cynthia Clemons, 45, of Knoxville; and, Holli Womack aka Holli Carmichael, 44, of Knoxville.
The superseding indictment, which is on file with the U.S. District Court, details the charges against each of the individuals referenced above. All are accused of being responsible for the distribution of quantities of oxycodone, oxymorphone, and morphine sufficient to generate clinic revenue of at least $21M.
On January 19, 2018, Italian authorities arrested Sartini and Palma in Rome, Italy-area. The United States is seeking extradition. Rodriguez is set to self-surrender. All other defendants were previously charged in prior indictments.
Announcement of these charges and the superseding indictment were made today by Attorney General Jeff Sessions, Acting Assistant Attorney General John P. Cronan of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division, U.S. Attorney J. Douglas Overbey of the Eastern District of Tennessee and Special Agent in Charge Renae M. McDermott of the FBI’s Knoxville Division.
“Throughout this country, and certainly in Tennessee and Florida, the illegal and unconscionable mass-distribution of prescription opioids through the operation of illegal pain clinics has taken a heavy toll on our citizens, families and communities,” said Attorney General Sessions. “This sort of profiteering effectively trades human lives for financial riches. The U.S. Department of Justice is determined to stamp out the operation of illegal pain clinics by all legal means, including finding and arresting those responsible wherever they may be in the world.”
“The Eastern District of Tennessee has been at the forefront in the battle against illegal pain clinics and mass-prescribing of opioids for years,” said U.S. Attorney Overbey. “Now, under the leadership of Attorney General Sessions, additional resources have been made available through recent Department of Justice initiatives, including the Opioid Fraud and Abuse Task Force. This latest indictment is a real and tangible result of all of those combined efforts. The citizens of East Tennessee can be assured that we are committed to ridding our district of illegal pill mills.”
Agencies involved in this investigation include the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Tennessee; Criminal Division’s Organized Crime and Gang Section; FBI High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area (HIDTA), which is comprised of investigators assigned to the task force by the Loudon County Sheriff’s Office, Knoxville Police Department, Blount County Sheriff’s Office, Roane County Sheriff’s Office, Harriman Police Department and Clinton Police Department. Other agencies that provided invaluable assistance include the Rome Attaché of the Justice Department’s Office of International Affairs; FBI’s liaison in Rome; the FBI Miami Health Care Fraud Strike Force; Hollywood, Florida Police Department; U.S. Department of Health and Human Services; Tennessee Department of Health; and DEA’s Knoxville Diversion Group. The Department of Justice extends its gratitude to Interpol and the Italian Financial Police (Guardia di Finanza) for their assistance in locating and apprehending the defendants.
Assistant U.S. Attorneys Tracy L. Stone and Anne-Marie Svolto of the Eastern District of Tennessee, and Trial Attorney Kelly Pearson of the Criminal Division’s Organized Crime and Gang Section represent the United States.
In light of the nationwide opioid epidemic which led to the declaration of a public health emergency by the Acting Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services on October 26, 2017, this superseding indictment represents just the latest in a series of federal efforts in the Eastern District of Tennessee meant to combat the scourge of prescription opioids.
To date, as a result of this investigation, approximately 30 narcotics traffickers have been charged and convicted federally, and approximately 80 to 90 smaller narcotic distributers have also been charged and convicted. Today’s superseding indictment is among 35 related indictments charging approximately 140 individuals, including medical providers who worked at the pill mills, with various crimes.
Members of the public are reminded that an indictment constitutes only charges and that every person is presumed innocent until his or her guilt has been proven beyond a reasonable doubt.
This case was a result of the Department of Justice’s Organized Crime and Drug Enforcement Task Force (OCDETF) program, the centerpiece of the Department of Justice’s drug supply reduction strategy. OCDETF was established in 1982 to conduct comprehensive, multi-level attacks on major drug trafficking and money laundering organizations. Today, OCDETF combines the resources and expertise of its member federal agencies in cooperation with state and local law enforcement. The principal mission of the OCDETF program is to identify, disrupt, and dismantle the most serious drug trafficking and money laundering organizations and those primarily responsible for the nation’s drug supply.
# # #