Montgomery Nurse Practitioner Receives 10-Year Sentence
Montgomery, Alabama – On Wednesday, May 29, 2019, a Montgomery, Alabama nurse practitioner, Lilian Ifeoma Akwuba, 40, received a 10-year sentence for her part in helping run two separate “pill mill” operations in Montgomery over a four-year period, announced United States Attorney Louis V. Franklin, Sr., Assistant Special Agent in Charge Clay Morris with the Drug Enforcement Administration, Special Agent in Charge Derrick L. Jackson with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Office of Inspector General, and Special Agent in Charge Thomas J. Holloman with the IRS Criminal Investigation, Atlanta Field Office The sentence followed her convictions for drug distribution and health care fraud. Specifically, in October of 2018, a federal jury convicted Akwuba on 17 counts of unlawfully distributing controlled substances, four counts of health care fraud, one count of conspiring to distribute controlled substances, and one count of conspiring to commit health care fraud.
The trial evidence showed that, from 2013 through 2016, Akwuba worked at Family Practice, a Montgomery medical practice located at 4143 Atlanta Highway. Her supervisor there was the practice’s owner, Dr. Gilberto Sanchez. Working under Sanchez, Akwuba issued and caused to be issued unnecessary and illegitimate prescriptions for a variety of controlled substances, including fentanyl, hydrocodone (commonly known as “Norco” or “Lortab”), oxycodone (commonly known as “Percocet”), alprazolam (commonly known as “Xanax”), and methadone. Akwuba and Sanchez also required these patients to return approximately every month to obtain their prescriptions. These unnecessary office visits and unlawful prescriptions were ultimately billed to the insurance companies, which paid the claims.
In 2016, Akwuba left Family Practice and opened her own practice, Mercy Family Health Care, located at 128 Mytilene Park Drive in east Montgomery. At her new practice, Akwuba continued the prescribing patterns she developed while working at Family Practice. Because Akwuba was a nurse practitioner and not a physician, she was not able to issue prescription refills on Schedule II controlled substances without a physician’s approval. Akwuba skirted this rule by, in many instances, forging physicians’ signatures on prescriptions for controlled substances.
At the sentencing hearing, the federal judge found that Akwuba testified falsely at trial. As a result, Akwuba received a sentencing enhancement for obstructing justice. Additionally, Akwuba received an enhancement for abusing the trust society placed in her when it allowed her to practice nursing. Before imposing sentence, the judge described Akwuba as a “highly educated drug dealer” and also noted that Akwuba had demonstrated no remorse for the immeasurable harm caused by the prescriptions she signed.
“Far too many of us have been touched by this crisis of over-medication,” stated United States Attorney Franklin. “It is a problem that we hear about on the news and deal with in our own homes. My office and our law enforcement partners are making progress in addressing the issue. Due to the position she held as a medical professional and the air of legitimacy that it comes with, I consider Ms. Akwuba’s actions to be, in many ways, worse than a street-level drug dealer. I hope that the sentence imposed in this case will deter other prescribers from following in her footsteps and causing harm to their patients.”
“Today's sentencing effectively ends the unlawful distribution of controlled substances by Akwuba, a licensed nurse practitioner,” stated Assistant Special Agent in Charge Clay Morris with DEA. “Anyone who preys on the addiction of others will bear the full force of the DEA and our law enforcement partners. We will not tolerate those who unlawfully distribute drugs regardless of their position in life. Healthcare professionals who violate our trust and cause harm to our communities will be held accountable for their criminal activities. The safety of the citizens of Alabama and the United States is our most important priority.”
"Nurse practitioner Lilian Akwuba abandoned her obligation to protect the health and well-being of patients, instead taking advantage of people suffering from addiction to opioids in order to enrich herself," said Derrick L. Jackson, Special Agent in Charge at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Office of Inspector General in Atlanta. “We will continue to work with our law enforcement partners to protect patients and the health care programs intended to serve them.”
"Medical professionals who illegally dispense prescription narcotics are no better than street level drug dealers and must be held accountable for their actions," said Thomas J. Holloman, Special Agent in Charge IRS Criminal Investigation, Atlanta Field Office. “This sentencing is another step in our ongoing effort to combating the opioid epidemic, healthcare fraud and profiteering in the trafficking of legal drugs. IRS-CI will continue to work with our law enforcement partners and the US Attorney's Office to address these public challenges.”
The case was investigated Drug Enforcement Administration, Health and Human Services-Office of the Inspector General, and Internal Revenue Service-Criminal Investigation. The Alabama Law Enforcement Agency, the Opelika, Alabama Police Department, the Montgomery, Alabama Police Department, and the Alabama Board of Medical Examiners all assisted in the investigation. Assistant United States Attorneys Jonathan S. Ross, Megan A. Kirkpatrick, and Rand Neeley prosecuted the case.