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Montgomery, AL – On Wednesday, February 28, 2018, a physician and nurse were arrested after being indicted in the ongoing investigation and prosecution of a “pill mill” being operated out of a Montgomery, Alabama medical office. The two new defendants in this case are physician Willie J. Chester, Jr., 64, of Pike Road, Alabama, and nurse Stephanie Michelle Ott, 42, of Fairhope, Alabama. Previously charged in this investigation were nurse practitioners Lillian Akwuba and Elizabeth Cronier, physician Julio Delgado, and clerical workers Misty Michelle Fannin, Jacqueline Suzanne Brownfield, and Akash Kumar.
All of the defendants are alleged to have assisted Dr. Gilberto Sanchez in operating a “pill mill” out of Family Practice, a medical clinic located at 4143 Atlanta Highway in Montgomery. Dr. Gilberto Sanchez, previously a Montgomery physician, owned Family Practice. In November of 2017, Dr. Sanchez pleaded guilty in federal court to drug distribution, health care fraud, and money laundering charges. In December, Dr. Sanchez’s former partner, Dr. Shepherd Odom pleaded guilty to drug distribution and money laundering charges. In January of 2018, Steven Cox, a nurse practitioner employed by the practice, pleaded guilty to drug distribution and health care fraud charges.
The most recent indictment in this case charges Chester with drug distribution, health care fraud, and conspiracy charges. The indictment alleges that Chester worked at Family Practice in 2016 and 2017, and, during that time, he prescribed controlled substances to patients knowing that the patients did not need the prescribed medicine. It further alleges that Chester had health insurance companies billed for unnecessary prescriptions and office evaluations.
As for Ott, the new indictment charges her with conspiracy and health care fraud. The factual allegations against Ott state that, in 2015, Family Practice employed Ott as a consultant. In that role, Ott implemented a billing system that caused the practice to overbill health insurance companies for services provided by nurse practitioners.
Finally, the latest indictment adds new drug distribution and health care fraud charges against Delgado and Cronier.
If convicted of the drug distribution charges, Chester faces a maximum sentence of 20 years’ in prison. Chester and Ott face maximum term of 10 years on the health care fraud charges. All defendants also could be assessed substantial fines and other monetary penalties.
An indictment merely alleges that crimes have been committed. All defendants are presumed innocent until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.
This case was investigated by the Drug Enforcement Administration’s Tactical Diversion Squad, the Internal Revenue Service’s Criminal Investigation Division, and the United States Department of Health and Human Services – Office of Inspector General. The Montgomery County Sheriff’s Office, the Alabama Board of Medical Examiners, the Montgomery Police Department, the Opelika Police Department, and the Elmore County Sheriff’s Office assisted in the investigation. Assistant United States Attorneys Jonathan S. Ross and R. Rand Neeley are prosecuting the case.