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Press Release

Husband and Wife Plead Guilty In Connection with Pain Clinic Pill Mill Scheme

For Immediate Release
U.S. Attorney's Office, Northern District of Alabama

BIRMINGHAM – A Springville couple involved in a St. Clair County pill mill scheme entered dual guilty pleas today in federal court, announced U.S. Attorney Jay E. Town, Drug Enforcement Administration-Birmingham Acting Assistant Special Agent in Charge Andy Langan and Internal Revenue Service-Criminal Investigation Special Agent in Charge Thomas J. Holloman.

             CINDY LOUISE HYCHE DUNN, 53, pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to distribute controlled substances outside the usual course of professional practice and not for a legitimate medical purpose and to one count of conspiracy to commit money laundering for purposes of promoting the pill mill scheme. Her husband, THOMAS MASON DUNN, 56, pleaded guilty to the same money laundering conspiracy.  The couple entered their guilty pleas before U.S. District Judge R. David Proctor.  A sentencing date has not been set.

            From January 2012 through December 2015, Cindy Dunn ran a pain management clinic in Moody, Alabama operating under the name Cindy Dunn & Dr. Buckingham, M.D., Weight Loss Clinic and Pain Management (CDPM). CDPM was not a legitimate pain clinic. It was a pill mill churning out thousands of prescriptions for opioid painkillers. Thomas Dunn performed financial transactions on behalf of CDPM to further the pill mill scheme. He also received prescriptions for opioid painkillers from CDPM.    

“This couple operated a pain management clinic with reckless disregard for patient safety,” U.S. Attorney Town said.  “To those who continue to poison our communities by this illegal practice and enable the growth of the opioid crisis in our state, you will be caught, you will be prosecuted, and you will have a bed in federal prison.”

            “This investigation demonstrates the fact that if you are a doctor in the state of Alabama and you are illegally prescribing controlled substances we will find you and you will pay a heavy price,” Acting Assistant Special Agent in Charge Langan said.  “This is another example of the great teamwork between federal, state, and local law enforcement partners to positively impact the lives of the good people living in our communities.”   


            “Pill Mills continue to plague our communities as the illegal distribution of prescription drugs remains a profitable criminal enterprise,” Special Agent in Charge Holloman said.  “IRS-CI pledges to follow the money to the profiteers and work with our partners to shut down these illegal operations. Today’s guilty pleas are a step forward in law enforcement’s efforts to address the prescription drug problem in our community”.  

As part of their plea agreements, the couple will forfeit their Springville home to the United States. The agreement with Cindy Dunn stipulates a 10-year prison sentence. The agreement with Thomas Dunn stipulates a 30-month prison sentence. Judge Proctor accepted the couples’ guilty pleas today, but reserved decision on whether to accept the stipulated prison sentences until the couples’ sentencing hearings. The plea agreements entered by Cindy Dunn and Thomas Dunn with the United States are binding, meaning any party may withdraw if the court does not accept the stipulated prison sentences.

According to her plea agreement, as the owner and president of CDPM, Cindy Dunn ran its day-to-day operations, and hired and directed physicians and staff.  Two doctors issued the majority of CDPM’s controlled substance prescriptions, neither were pain management specialists.  John Ladd Buckingham was CDPM’s primary physician while Steven Bruce Hefter also issued prescriptions for CDPM at various times.  CDPM attracted patients from all over Alabama and outside the state.  Patients came from Huntsville, Muscle Shoals, Florence, and Mobile, Alabama.  Patients also flocked to CDPM from Florida, Georgia, and Tennessee. CDPM received anywhere from forty to eighty patients in a single day.

CDPM typically did not treat patients with anything other than high doses of opioid painkillers, according to Cindy Dunn’s plea agreement. Prescribed opioids included fentanyl, hydrocodone, methadone, morphine, oxycodone, and oxymorphone. CDPM rarely, if ever, ordered diagnostic tests, such as x-rays or MRIs, to identify and potentially treat the source(s) of pain. Patients often received opioid prescriptions or dosage increases upon request. CDPM also issued prescriptions for a combination of drugs known as “the holy trinity,” which consists of an opioid painkiller, a muscle relaxer, and a benzodiazepine.  The plea agreement states that this “cocktail” has a high potential for abuse and carries a significant risk of overdose.

According to her plea agreement, Cindy Dunn had no formal medical education, qualifications, or licensing, yet she directed, oversaw, and guided prescriptions for opioids and other controlled substances at CDPM.  For example, Cindy Dunn allowed patients to continue receiving opioid prescriptions after failing multiple drug tests. She also permitted patients who admitted buying pills on the street and/or who had a history of drug abuse to receive opioid prescriptions.  It further states that Cindy Dunn devised a system for pre-signing prescriptions in order to maximize revenue. CDPM staff wrote prescriptions, which the doctors signed far in advance of patient visits. The pre-signed prescriptions were then handed to patients in exchange for cash without the doctor seeing the patient.  Cindy Dunn, Thomas Dunn, and others used the money generated through CDPM’s pill mill scheme to continue CDPM’s operations, according to both plea agreements.

“The Dunns had no business running a pain management clinic,” said Assistant United States Attorney Mohammad Khatib. “They harnessed the prescribing power of their physician co-conspirators for the sole purpose of making fast money. Their greed spread the opioid epidemic in Alabama and inflicted real damage on the legitimate medical community. For that, they must pay a very dear price.”

Doctor Hefter pleaded guilty for his involvement with CDPM in December 2017.

            DEA and IRS-Criminal Investigation investigated the case, which Assistant U.S. Attorneys Mohammad Khatib and Robin Beardsley Mark are prosecuting.

Updated March 11, 2019