BIRMINGHAM – A federal grand jury on Wednesday indicted a Springville couple and a Moody physician on charges they operated a pill mill in St. Clair County for four years, announced U.S. Attorney Jay E. Town, Drug Enforcement Administration Assistant Special Agent in Charge Bret Hamilton and Internal Revenue Service, Criminal Investigation, Special Agent in Charge Thomas J. Holloman.
A 20-count indictment filed in U.S. District Court charges CINDY LOUISE HYCHE DUNN, 53, her husband, THOMAS MASON DUNN, 56, and Dr. JOHN LADD BUCKINGHAM, 85, in a conspiracy to operate a clinic in Moody for the main purpose of illegally distributing or dispensing controlled substances outside the usual course of professional practice and not for a legitimate medical purpose. The object of the conspiracy was for the participants to enrich themselves, according to the indictment. The group ran Cindy Dunn & Dr. Buckingham, M.D., Weight Loss Clinic and Pain Management (CDPM) from January 2012 through December 2015.
“Personal greed motivates the people who operate illegal pain clinics, mass-prescribing opioids without medical justification and with no regard to the larger pain they bring to individuals, families and communities,” Town said. “The Department of Justice is determined to stamp out the operation of illegal pain clinics by all legal means as part of the fight against opioid abuse, and the Northern District of Alabama is fully committed to the fight. As one of 12 districts across the county participating in the department’s pilot Opioid Fraud and Abuse Detection Unit, we are taking advantage of data collection and analysis and joining together federal, state and local law enforcement to investigate and shut down illegal pill mills for good.”
“The abuse of prescription drugs is a serious problem in our communities – leading to addiction, shattered lives, and even death,” Hamilton said. “For the health and safety of our citizens, DEA and our law enforcement partners will continue to target those who illegally obtain and distribute these potentially dangerous drugs. We hope that these indictments serve as a reminder to anyone who might illegally divert pharmaceuticals that they will be held accountable for the harm they cause.”
“This was a classic example of a pill mill and these individuals will be held accountable,” Holloman said. “We will continue to work with our law enforcement partners in tackling the opioid epidemic head on in the state of Alabama. In following the money, you can trace the drug proceeds to the beneficiaries and bring the entire conspiracy ring to justice.”
The indictment includes 16 counts charging Cindy Dunn and Buckingham with unlawfully dispensing a controlled substance, all containing opioids. As part of the conspiracy and in disregard for usual standards of professional medical practice, Cindy Dunn, Buckingham and other co-conspirators prescribed more than 13,500 methadone-based pills to one patient and more than 8,200 oxycodone-based pills to another patient, according to the indictment. They also prescribed more than 7,900 oxycodone-based and methadone-based pills, collectively, to a single patient, and 7,700 oxycodone-based and methadone-based pills, collectively, to a different patient, the indictment says.
Cindy Dunn, owner and president of CDPM, operated the clinic, including hiring and directing physicians and staff and making financial decisions. She mainly hired relatives as clerical staff and, for the vast majority of the clinic’s operation, did not employ formally trained nurses or medical assistants, according to the indictment. Cindy Dunn had no known medical education of her own.
Thomas Dunn performed various administrative and financial duties for CDPM and received prescriptions for opioids from the clinic, according to the indictment. Buckingham was a licensed physician in Alabama, but was not a certified pain management specialist.
CDPM typically charged a $25 patient application fee, a $200-$300 clinic visit fee for new patients, then a $90-$125 monthly fee for follow-up visits, according to the indictment. The clinic did not accept insurance, requiring cash or credit payments. Patient examinations were “infrequent, and were typically minimal and cursory,” and Cindy Dunn and CDPM staff often issued controlled substance prescriptions that were pre-signed by Buckingham or other physician co-conspirators, according to the indictment.
The indictment charges Cindy Dunn and Buckingham with maintaining a drug-involved premises, and charges all three defendants with participating in a money-laundering conspiracy by opening bank accounts for the clinic and conducting financial transactions with illegally obtained funds in order to keep the illicit business operating.
The final count of the indictment charges Cindy Dunn with engaging in a monetary transaction involving criminally derived property valued at more than $10,000. The charge cites a $25,000 deposit into a CDPM account at Regions Bank with money from a clinic account at Metro Bank.
Both the conspiracy to distribute controlled substances outside the usual course of professional practice charge and each substantive count of illegally distributing controlled substances carry a maximum penalty of 20 years in prison and a $1 million fine. The charge of maintaining a drug-involved premises carries a maximum penalty of 20 years in prison and a $500,000 fine. Money-laundering conspiracy carries a maximum penalty of 20 years in prison and a $250,000 fine. Engaging in monetary transactions involving criminal proceeds carries a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison and a $250,000 fine.
DEA and IRS-CI investigated the case, which Assistant U.S. Attorney Mohammad Khatib is prosecuting.