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Justice News

Department of Justice
U.S. Attorney’s Office
Northern District of Alabama

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Friday, January 31, 2020

Alabama Physician Pleads Guilty to Drug Distribution Charges for Prescription of Opioids

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. – A family medicine physician pleaded guilty today of drug distribution charges arising out of her prescription of opioid drugs from a medical clinic she operated in Alabama.

            Assistant Attorney General Brian A. Benczkowski of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division, U.S. Attorney Jay E. Town of the Northern District of Alabama, Special Agent in Charge Derrick L. Jackson for the Office of Inspector General of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and Special Agent in Charge Brad L. Byerley of the Drug Enforcement Administration’s New Orleans Field Division made the announcement.

Celia Lloyd-Turney (Turney), M.D., 66, of Toney, Alabama, who operated Choice Medicine Clinic, pleaded guilty to one count of unlawful distribution of controlled substances.  Sentencing has been scheduled for June 8, 2020 before U.S. District Judge Liles C. Burke of the Northern District of Alabama. 

"Turney operated a family medicine clinic, mass-prescribing opioids without medical justification and taking advantage of patients, many of whom are addicted to opioids, with no regard to the larger pain brought to those individuals, families and communities,” Town said. “After the government had rested its case, and faced with the mountain of evidence presented against her, Dr. Turney didn’t wait for the verdict.  She pleaded guilty, which is the strongest form of proof in our system.  I am grateful to the trial team, Main Justice Criminal Fraud Section, Criminal Division AAG Brian Benczkowski, and the entire ARPO Strike Force team for their efforts in this case.  The citizens of Alabama are safer as a result and the message is clear to medical providers who over-prescribe opioids: the white coat is no shield to federal prosecution.”

"Prescription drug abuse remains a significant problem in this country that destroys countless lives. DEA is fully committed to the pursuit of any individual who abandons their oath as a medical practitioner,” DEA Special Agent in Charge Brad L. Byerley said. “DEA will continue to work with all of our law enforcement partners, the medical community and the public to identify and stop those responsible for endangering lives in our communities and bring them to justice.”

The plea came after a trial while the jury was deliberating, but before they reached a verdict. At trial, evidence showed that from 2015 to 2017, Turney wrote multiple prescriptions for controlled substances to purported patients who were actively abusing other drugs, suffering from addiction, and selling the pills.   

This case was investigated by HHS-OIG and the DEA, with the assistance of the Huntsville, Alabama Police Department.  Trial Attorneys Louis Manzo and Ann Weber Langely of the Criminal Division’s Fraud Section and Assistant U.S. Attorney J.B. Ward of the Northern District of Alabama are prosecuting the case.

 

The Fraud Section leads the Medicare Fraud Strike Force.  Since its inception in March 2007, the Medicare Fraud Strike Force, which maintains 15 strike forces operating in 24 districts, has charged more than 4,200 defendants who have collectively billed the Medicare program for nearly $19 billion.  In addition, the HHS Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, working in conjunction with the HHS-OIG, are taking steps to increase accountability and decrease the presence of fraudulent providers.

 

The Fraud Section leads the Appalachian Regional Prescription Opioid (ARPO) Strike Force.  Since its inception in October 2018, the ARPO Strike Force, which operates in 10 districts, has charged more than 70 defendants who are collectively responsible for distributing more than 40 million pills.

 

Individuals who believe that they may be a victim in this case should visit the Fraud Section’s Victim Witness website for more information.

 

The year 2020 marks the 150th anniversary of the Department of Justice.  Learn more about the history of our agency at www.Justice.gov/Celebrating150Years.

 

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Updated January 31, 2020