Montgomery “Pill Mill” Doctor Receives a 145- Month Sentence for Drug Distribution, Health Care Fraud, and Money Laundering Offenses; “Pill Mill” Mental Health Counselor Pleads Guilty in Related Case
Montgomery, Alabama – On Thursday, August 23, 2018, Dr. Gilberto Sanchez, 56, of Montgomery, Alabama, was sentenced to serve 12 years and 1 month in prison for prescribing unnecessary controlled substances to his patients, committing health care fraud, and laundering money, announced United States Attorney Louis V. Franklin, Sr.
For years, Dr. Sanchez operated a medical practice located at 4143 Atlanta Highway in Montgomery. At that practice, Dr. Sanchez gave patients prescriptions for controlled substances knowing that the patients did not need the medicine and would, in fact, abuse the drugs. Among the drugs Dr. Sanchez unnecessarily prescribed were dangerous opioids, including oxycodone, hydrocodone, and fentanyl. Dr. Sanchez also gave out illegitimate prescriptions for amphetamines, including Adderall, and benzodiazepines, including Xanax.
To ensure that his scheme was a profitable one, Dr. Sanchez required his patients to return to his office each month and undergo physical examinations before receiving prescription refills. These office visits were unnecessary, as their only purpose was to facilitate Dr. Sanchez giving the patients illegitimate prescriptions. Nevertheless, Dr. Sanchez performed these unnecessary examinations so that he could get money from the patients’ insurance companies. This scheme led to Dr. Sanchez’s health care fraud conviction.
The money laundering charges stem from Dr. Sanchez’s spending the proceeds of his operation of a pill mill. Court documents describe Dr. Sanchez using those proceeds to purchase at least one vehicle and one personal residence located in Montgomery.
When he imposed the sentence, United States District Judge Myron H. Thompson told Dr. Sanchez that he was imposing the strong sentence because of the significant toll Sanchez’s criminal conduct took in the lives of Dr. Sanchez’s patients and employees. The judge noted that many of the patients were unusually vulnerable due to drug addictions. Judge Thompson also stressed the amount of money Dr. Sanchez obtained from his scheme, which was at least $3.5 million dollars.
Also on Thursday, a licensed professional counselor, Johnnie Chaisson Sanders, 48, of Wetumpka, Alabama, pleaded guilty to health care fraud. Court documents state that Sanders worked for Dr. Sanchez and, with Dr. Sanchez, participated in a fraudulent moneymaking venture. Specifically, Dr. Sanchez falsely told patients that the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) required any person who received a prescription for a controlled substance to undergo mental health counseling. The DEA had no such requirement. Dr. Sanchez then referred the patients to Sanders. After Sanders provided counseling to a patient, Dr. Sanchez billed the patient’s insurance company for the counseling service. Sanders knew that Dr. Sanchez would do this. Nevertheless, Sanders would collect cash payments directly from the patients. As a result, Dr. Sanchez and Sanders got paid twice for the same services.
“A license to practice medicine does not give a doctor permission to be a drug dealer,” said United States Attorney Franklin. “This white coat criminal poured poison into this community for years and will never know nor be able to undo the harm Dr. Sanchez inflicted upon his patients and their loved ones. We hope that this strong sentence will send a message deter other doctors who might follow Dr. Sanchez down the path of putting profit over care.”
“A doctor takes an oath to do no harm, but Sanchez actively harmed his patients and their families.” stated Bret Hamilton, DEA Assistant Special Agent in Charge. No one knows the number of lives that Sanchez destroyed for his own gain. Just because you have a medical degree, you can still be nothing more than a common drug dealer.”
“Sanchez put his patients’ lives at risk and decided to abuse his medical privileges in order to line his pockets,” said Thomas J. Holloman, Special Agent in Charge, IRS- Criminal Investigation. “IRS-CI will continue to work with our law enforcement partners to aggressively pursue doctors and their employees who illegally divert prescription medications.”
“It’s reprehensible that a doctor entrusted with caring for his community would push unnecessary drugs on patients, knowing full well the ramifications of opioid abuse,”said Derrick L. Jackson, Special Agent in Charge at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Office of Inspector General in Atlanta. “Dr. Sanchez continuously put his financial gain above the health and safety of our local residents. HHS-OIG continues to focus resources on those who divert prescription medication for profit and abuse.”
This case was investigated by the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA)’s Tactical Diversion Squad, the United States Department of Health and Human Services – Office of Inspector General, and the Internal Revenue Service’s Criminal Investigation Division (IRS-CI). The Alabama Law Enforcement Agency; Montgomery County, Alabama Sheriff’s Office; the Alabama Board of Medical Examiners; the Montgomery, Alabama Police Department; and the Opelika, Alabama Police Department all assisted in the investigation.
Assistant United States Attorneys Jonathan S. Ross and R. Rand Neeley prosecuted the case.