Doctors Found Guilty For Role In Valdosta And Columbus Pill Mills
VALDOSTA: Charles E. Peeler, United States Attorney for the Middle District of Georgia, announces that Dr. William Bacon, age 82 and Dr. Donatus O. Mbanefo, age 64, were found guilty by a jury of conspiracy to dispense controlled substances outside the usual course of medical practice and without a legitimate medical purpose at clinics in Valdosta, Georgia and Columbus, Georgia. Dr. Mbanefo was also convicted of two additional counts of unlawful dispensation of controlled substances. The trial was held before Senior District Judge Hugh Lawson between May 29 and June 13, 2018 in Valdosta.
Evidence presented during the trial of the case showed that in June 2011, co-conspirators Carol Neema Biggs, a/k/a Carol Johnson; Nilija Biggs and Junior Alexander Biggs formed the Wellness Center of Valdosta (WCV), located at 2016 E. Adair Street, to operate as a pain clinic. Dr. Bacon began working there in September 2011 and saw patients until the clinic closed.
The evidence showed that the clinic saw unrealistically large numbers of patients daily, accepted no forms of insurance or government benefits but took cash payments only of between $250 to $325 to see a patient, offered a “VIP” line which allowed patients to be seen sooner by paying additional cash. The doctors at the clinic saw an abnormally large number of patients from out of state, including some from as far away as Kentucky, Ohio, and West Virginia, who often traveled in groups to the clinic. The evidence showed that the clinic offered no diagnostic testing, required only a paper MRI report, and that Dr. Bacon performed only cursory medical examinations. No alternative treatments outside prescribing large quantities of a “cocktail” of pain medications and other controlled substances were offered to patients. The “cocktail” generally included such highly addictive controlled substances as Oxycodone and Xanax, but also included Hydromorphone, Hydrocodone, Soma, Valium and Ambien. A number of pharmacies and regulatory agencies called the clinic with concerns about the types and amounts of controlled substances prescribed.
During the approximately 27 months during which Dr. Bacon worked at the Wellness Center of Valdosta, he wrote more than 29,000 prescriptions for controlled substances. Those included prescriptions for more than 1.8 million Oxycodone pills and more than 700,000 Xanax and Soma pills.
In June 2012, in furtherance of the conspiracy, Carol and Junior Biggs opened another pain clinic in Columbus known as the Relief Institute of Columbus. The Relief Institute of Columbus employed a number of doctors but evidence at the trial showed that clinic operated in the same fashion as the Wellness Center of Columbus to unlawfully dispense controlled substances. At some point in mid-2013, the name of the clinic was changed to Tri-City Spinal Center, briefly, and it relocated to 7661 Kayne Blvd in order to avoid suspicion related to the clinic’s practices, but the purpose and operation did not change. The Columbus clinic closed briefly after execution of a federal search warrant on December 12, 2013, but reopened from late December 2013 through February 4, 2014, when a state search warrant was executed at the clinic.
Dr. Mbanefo saw patients at the Relief Institute between mid-March 2013 and mid-June 2013. During that three month period of time, Dr. Mbanefo wrote more than 2,900 prescriptions for controlled substances. Those included prescriptions for more than 127,000 Oxycodone pills and more than 43,000 Xanax and Soma pills. Evidence at the trial also showed that on April 8, 2013, Dr. Mbanefo prescribed large quantities of Oxycodone and Xanax to an undercover agent, who had no legitimate medical issues, with only a cursory medical examination and without discussing the dangers or addictive nature of those drugs. On June 5, 2013, Dr. Mbanefo prescribed the same undercover agent Oxycodone, Hydromorphone and Xanax, without a legitimate medical purpose.
The doctors at both clinics were paid $1200 to $1400 per day to see patients at the clinics, with a bonus when a doctor saw more than 40 in a single day. During the operation of the two clinics, patients made cash payments of more than $2 million to see the doctors for prescriptions.
Dr. Bacon faces up to twenty (20) years in federal prison and Dr. Mbanefo faces up to twenty (20) years in federal prison on each of the three counts, based on the convictions.
Others who worked at the clinics have previously pled guilty to various offenses and await sentencing. Dr. Vinod Shah, who had seen patients at the Relief Institute of Columbus in 2012-2013 and issued presciptions for more than 398,000 Oxycodone pills and more than 100,000 Xanax and Soma pills, has previously entered a guilty plea to involvement in the pill mill conspiracy. Co-conspirators Carol Neema Biggs a/k/a Carol Johnson, Junior Alexander Biggs, Shavonta Devon Bright a/k/a Sean, Nilaja C. Biggs, and Ionie Whorms have also previously entered pleas of guilty for their involvement in or knowledge and concealment of the conspiracy.
On their guilty pleas to conspiracy, Carol Biggs, Junior Biggs and Dr. Vinod Shah each face up to ten (10) years in federal prison, while Nilija Biggs faces up to five (5) years in federal prison. Based on pleas to knowledge and concealment of the conspiracy, Mr. Bright and Ms. Whorms each face up to three (3) years in federal prison.
“This case demonstrates the importance of pursuing those individuals, including licensed medical professionals, who are preying on the addictive nature of opioids and other controlled substances.” said United States Attorney Charlie Peeler. “My office and the Department of Justice have made efforts to control what the CDC has declared an Opioid Epidemic in this country that is killing people and fueling the current spike in illegal heroin trade. Doctors are not above the law and our office will continue to hold doctors accountable for illegal practices that put powerful, addictive and dangerous painkillers and other substances into the hands of those who do not medically need them.”
Robert J. Murphy, the Special Agent in Charge of the DEA Atlanta Field Division said, “The devastation caused to human lives by prescription opioid abuse cannot be overstated. The prescription opioid epidemic that this country currently faces can be traced directly to unscrupulous medical practices where the practicing doctors and owners prosper and the patients suffer grievously. Patients at “pill mills” can expect to lose family, money, their health, happiness and possibly their lives. Physicians who run these illegal practices can expect to be investigated, prosecuted, and sent to prison in the same way as other drug traffickers who push poison in our communities. DEA, its law enforcement partners and the U.S. Attorney’s Office presented a united front which led to the successful prosecution of this case.”
“Doctors who illegally dispense prescription narcotics must be held accountable for their actions. This conviction demonstrates the great work of law enforcement at all levels to investigate and prosecute the illegal distribution of prescription drugs negatively impacting Georgia and our surrounding states. The GBI remains committed to working with our federal partners in drug enforcement to address these types of crimes.”
The case was investigated by the Drug Enforcement Administration, the Georgia Bureau of Investigation and Internal Revenue Service – Criminal Investigation. Assistant United States Attorneys Robert D. McCullers and K. Alan Dasher prosecuted the case for the United States.
Questions concerning this case should be directed to Pamela Lightsey, Public Information Officer, United States Attorney’s Office, at (478) 621-2603.