Physician Sentenced For His Role In Prolific Georgia Pill Mills
For Immediate Release
U.S. Attorney's Office, Middle District of Georgia
Seven co-defendants previously sentenced, patients paid millions in cash for prescriptions
VALDOSTA - The final defendant involved in a multi-city pill mill conspiracy was sentenced to 72 months in prison Wednesday, said U.S. Attorney Charles “Charlie” Peeler. Dr. Vinod Shah, 69, of Salisbury, NC previously pleaded guilty to conspiracy to dispense controlled substances outside the usual course of medical practice and a legitimate medical purpose and was sentenced to prison on April 3, 2019 by the Honorable Hugh Lawson. Dr. Shah will serve three years supervised release. There is no parole in the federal system.
Dr. Shah joins seven other co-defendants who have been sentenced for their roles in operating pill mills at The Wellness Center of Valdosta and The Relief Institute of Columbus, where tens of thousands of prescriptions for highly addictive opioids were dispensed to people and more than $2 million dollars in cash was paid out by patients seeking prescriptions. Dr. Shah was recruited after a long career in medicine and was employed from 2012-2013, first training in Valdosta under co-defendant Dr. William Bacon, 83, of St. Johns, FL. There, he was taught to prescribe “cocktails” of Oxycodone and Alprazolam (commonly known as Xanax). In Columbus, Dr. Shah saw, at most, 45 patients a day, and the clinic stayed open late into the evening to see patients coming in from out of state. The clinics operated on a “cash only” basis. Patients paid $325 in cash for the first visit, $250 for subsequent visits. Almost every patient seen by Dr. Shah had a diagnosis of low back pain and was prescribed large quantities of two different dosages of Oxycodone and Alprazolam. Dr. Shah admitted in his plea agreement that many of the patients he saw were seeking drugs and many had no legitimate need for the prescriptions that were written. Dr. Shah also admitted that he did not adequately examine the patients and deliberately ignored obvious signs that the clinics were operating outside the legitimate practice of medicine. Dr. Shah was paid $1200 a day during his employment.
“There is no excuse for doctors and health care professionals who turn away from their oath to ethically care for sick people and instead prescribe opioids to addicts in return for cash,” said Charles “Charlie” Peeler, the United States Attorney for the Middle District. “The opioid epidemic is a scourge, and is creating serious harm in every pocket of our society. Law enforcement is working to root out those in the medical field illegally profiting from others’ destruction.”
A total of seven co-defendants in this case were sentenced in December 2018. Dr. Bacon was sentenced to 72 months in prison and the forfeiture of over $95,000. Dr. Donatus O. Mbanefo, 65, of Columbus, GA was sentenced to 96 months in prison. Following a two-week trial that began on May 29, 2018, a Valdosta jury found both Dr. Bacon and Dr. Mbanefo guilty of conspiracy to dispense controlled substances outside the usual course of medical practice and a legitimate medical purpose. Dr. Mbanefo was also convicted of two additional counts of unlawful dispensation of controlled substances.
Five co-conspirators previously entered guilty pleas for their involvement in or knowledge and concealment of the conspiracy, and were sentenced in federal court on Thursday, December 6, 2018.
On charges of conspiracy:
1. Carol Neema Biggs a/k/a Carol Johnson, 33, of Hollywood, FL: 60 months imprisonment, plus 36 months consecutive in prison for a total of 96 months imprisonment
2. Junior Alexander Biggs, 40, of Hollywood, FL: 50 months imprisonment, plus 36 months consecutive in prison for a total of 86 months imprisonment
3. Nilaja C. Biggs, 36 of Hialeah, FL: 36 months imprisonment
On charges of knowledge and concealment of the conspiracy:
4. Shavonta Devon Bright, 35 of Miami, FL: 3 years probation
5. Ionie Whorms, 55 of Goose Creek, SC: 3 years probation
Evidence presented during the 2018 trial of Dr. Bacon and Dr. Mbanefo showed that co-conspirators Carol Biggs, Nilija Biggs and Junior Biggs formed the Wellness Center of Valdosta (WCV) in June 2011, 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 clinic saw unrealistically large numbers of patients daily, including people from out of state, and accepted no forms of insurance or government benefits but took cash payments only. No diagnostic testing was offered and 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. 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.
In June 2012, Carol and Junior Biggs opened another pain clinic in Columbus known as the Relief Institute of Columbus. The Relief Institute of Columbus operated in the same fashion as the Wellness Center of Valdosta by unlawfully dispensing controlled substances. 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, including prescribing large quantities of Oxycodone and Xanax to an undercover agent, who had no legitimate medical issues. The doctors at both clinics were paid $1200 to $1400 per day to see patients, with a bonus for Dr. Bacon when he saw more than 40 patients in a single day. During the operation of the two clinics, patients made cash payments of more than $2 million.
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 can be directed to Pamela Lightsey, Public Information Officer, United States Attorney’s Office, at (478) 621-2603 or Melissa Hodges, Public Affairs Director (Contractor), United States Attorney’s Office, at (478) 765-2362.
Updated April 5, 2019