Two Pharmacists Convicted for Illegally Dispensing to Patients of a Pill Mill
ATLANTA - Rosemary Ofume and Donatus Iriele, the husband and wife owners of Medicine Center Pharmacy in Atlanta, Georgia, have been convicted after a three-week jury trial on federal drug and money laundering charges for illegally dispensing controlled narcotics to customers of the “pill mill” pain clinic across the street. They were convicted of a drug trafficking conspiracy, three counts of illegally dispensing controlled substances without a legitimate medical purpose and outside the usual course of professional practice, and a money laundering conspiracy, in connection with their operation of Medicine Center Pharmacy, in Atlanta, Georgia. Additionally, Iriele was convicted individually of five counts of concealment money laundering and laundering more than $10,000 of criminally derived property.
“Like the rest of the country, the state of Georgia continues to experience the devastating impact of the opiate epidemic,” said U.S. Attorney John Horn. “These defendants used their pharmacy to supply pills to patients of a known "pill mill." Physicians, pharmacists and other medical professionals that prey on drug addicts, and feed their addictions in order to make a profit, are simply drug dealers in white coats.”
Daniel R. Salter, the Special Agent in Charge of the DEA Atlanta Field Division said, “It is a sad commentary when trusted individuals in the medical community hide behind the veil of legitimacy to commit criminal acts. These pharmacists can no longer fill the opiate cravings of pill-seeking addicts with impunity. Owners and operators of pill mills spin a broad web of deception, reeling in casts of thousands who are addicted to pharmaceutical drugs. This investigation was a success because of the spirited level of law enforcement cooperation.”
“The reckless illegal dispensing of controlled substances results in addiction and death,” said James E. Dorsey, Acting Special Agent in Charge, IRS Criminal Investigation. “The abuse of Oxycodone and other controlled substances has become an epidemic which is destroying lives and communities throughout the country. Rosemary Ofume, Donatus Iriele and others who operate pill mills in the Northern District of Georgia can expect to be investigated, prosecuted, and sent to prison in the same way as other drug traffickers who push poison in our communities.”
“These convictions have removed a huge tumor from the cancer that illicit drug distribution has become during our lifetime. The hard work invested in this case by all parties, from the U.S. Attorney’s office to the boots on the ground front-line drug agents and everyone in-between proves what dedication, persistence and cooperation can accomplish. It’s proof positive that just because you have a license to practice pharmacy, you aren’t entitled to put illicitly prescribed drugs on the street and contribute to the skyrocketing opioid addiction and overdose death rates. All health care professionals are on notice to remember: you are to do no harm. And if you intentionally ignore this charge, you are going to be treated the same as a street-corner drug dealer in this war on opioid abuse,” said Rick Allen, Director, Georgia Drugs & Narcotics Agency.
According to U.S. Attorney Horn, the charges and other information presented in court: In May 2009, agents of the DEA, working with agents for the IRS, began investigating the AMARC pain clinic, located in Atlanta, Georgia, and nearby Medicine Center Pharmacy, after receiving information that the clinic and pharmacy were illegitimately prescribing and dispensing pain pills to drug addicts and drug dealers.
The investigation revealed that Godfrey Ilonzo financed and operated at least eight clinics in the metro Atlanta area under the “AMARC” name, including the Lakewood pain clinic and one in Tyrone, Georgia. Bona Ilonzo (Godfrey Ilonzo’s wife) served as the office manager at the Lakewood AMARC pain clinic. At various times, Dr. Nevorn Askari and Dr. William Richardson served as the primary doctors for the AMARC pain clinics. Rosemary Ofume and Donatus Iriele operated the Medicine Center Pharmacy across the street from one of the pain clinics. Both Godfrey and Bona Ilonzo, as well as Drs. Askari and Richardson, previously pleaded guilty to charges related to their conduct at the clinic.
Ofume and Iriele worked together with the Ilonzos and Drs. Askari and Richardson to facilitate the dispensing of Oxycodone pills and other opiates to addicts and distributors. After customers received prescriptions from Askari and Richardson for medically inappropriate and potentially lethal combinations of opiates and other controlled substances, clinic staff told customers to fill their prescriptions across the street at “Rosemary’s pharmacy” (Medicine Center Pharmacy operated by Ofume and Iriele). Many of those customers traveled to the AMARC clinics and Ofume/Iriele’s pharmacy from counties throughout Georgia and from other states (including Alabama and Ohio).
Customers waited for hours at the Lakewood AMARC pain clinic and paid cash to receive prescriptions for Oxycodone or Hydrocodone, Xanax, and Soma (the “holy trinity” for resale on the street) before purchasing the pills at high prices from Ofume and Iriele’s pharmacy. Employees at the AMARC clinics and Ofume and Iriele’s pharmacy received discounts and special treatment, including free office visits and reduced prices for pills dispensed at the pharmacy. Ofume lied to pharmaceutical distributors in order to procure astronomical quantities of Oxycodone and other prescription pain pills that were then dispensed to customers having obvious signs of addiction or drug diversion. Significantly, in 2009, Medicine Center Pharmacy purchased eleven times more Oxycodone than the average pharmacy in the state of Georgia.
During the course of the conspiracy, Ofume and Iriele generated more than $5.1 million dollars from unlawful prescriptions issued by doctors affiliated with the AMARC clinics (constituting more than 90% of the pharmacy’s revenue). Iriele used pharmacy proceeds to purchase three luxury vehicles for his and Ofume’s personal use. Iriele and Ofume also laundered pharmacy proceeds by purchasing vehicles in the United States for individuals in Nigeria while concealing that those customers then deposited local Nigerian currency into Iriele’s own Nigerian bank account.
Previously, in 2007, the Georgia Board of Pharmacy revoked Iriele’s pharmacy licensed (and temporarily suspended Ofume’s pharmacy license) after finding that Ofume and Iriele had failed to account for more than 600,000 controlled substances pills at their pharmacies and had dispensed controlled substances pursuant to more than 1,400 forged prescriptions.
Previously, Godfrey Ilonzo, 66, of Alpharetta, Georgia, and Bona Ilonzo, 54, of Alpharetta, Georgia, the husband-wife owners of the illegal pain clinic, and two doctors who worked at the clinic, pleaded guilty to federal drug and money laundering charges in connection with in the drug trafficking conspiracy.
Godfrey Ilonzo pleaded guilty on February 16, 2017, to drug trafficking conspiracy and money laundering conspiracy.
Bona Ilonzo pleaded guilty on February 16, 2017, to a drug trafficking conspiracy;
Dr. Nevorn Askari, 61, of Monroe, Georgia, pleaded guilty on February 16, 2017, to a drug trafficking conspiracy;
Dr. William Richardson, 63, of Atlanta, Georgia, pleaded guilty on February 1, 2017, to a drug trafficking conspiracy.
A federal grand jury returned a second superseding indictment against the defendants on September 5, 2013. The sentencings of Godrey and Bona Ilonzo, Dr. Askari, and Dr. Richardson are scheduled to take place throughout the day on May 16, 2017, before U.S. District Court Judge Steve C. Jones.
Based on the convictions, Ofume and Iriele will be ordered to forfeit to the United States $16,767 in cash seized from the pharmacy, $133,892.74 in funds seized from the pharmacy’s bank account, a 2009 BMW X5, a 2008 Mercedes Benz ML550, a 2007 BMW X5, and Rosemary Ofume’s Georgia Pharmacist license. In addition, the government also intends to seek money judgments equal to the amount of proceeds defendants obtained from their illegal drug trafficking and the amount of money laundered.
The sentencings of Ofume and Iriele are scheduled for June 13, 2017, at 10:00 a.m., before U.S. District Court Judge Jones.
This case was investigated by the Drug Enforcement Administration and Internal Revenue Service Criminal Investigation.
Assistant United States Attorneys Laurel Boatright, Cassandra Schansman, and Michael Brown are prosecuting the case.
The U.S. Attorney’s Office in Atlanta recommends parents and children learn about the dangers of drugs at the following web site: www.justthinktwice.com.
For further information please contact the U.S. Attorney’s Public Affairs Office at USAGAN.PressEmails@usdoj.gov or (404) 581-6016. The Internet address for the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Northern District of Georgia is http://www.justice.gov/usao-ndga.