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Justice News

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

Friday, February 13, 2015

Akron Doctor Sentenced To 10 Years In Prison For Illegally Prescribing Painkillers, Even After Patients Died

An Akron physician was sentenced to 10 years in prison for illegally prescribing hundreds of thousands of doses of painkillers and other pills to customers for no legitimate medical purpose, even after at least eight customers died from overdose-related deaths, law enforcement officials said.

Adolph Harper, Jr., 64, was also ordered to pay $417,060 in restitution. He pleaded guilty last year to one count of conspiracy to traffic drugs, four counts of health care fraud and 16 counts of drug trafficking.

Previously, Adria Harper, 35, of Akron, was sentenced to more than four years in prison after pleading guilty to one count of conspiracy to traffic drugs and 25 counts of drug trafficking. Patricia Laughman, 52, of Barberton, was sentenced to more than a year in prison after pleading guilty to one count of conspiracy to traffic drugs and 14 counts of drug trafficking. Tequilla Berry, 35, of Akron, pleaded guilty last year to one count of conspiracy to traffic drugs and seven counts of drug trafficking. She was sentenced to five years of probation.

Together, they distributed hundreds of thousands of doses of prescription medications -- including Oxycontin, Percocet, Roxicet, Opana, and others -- from Adolph Harper’s medical officers in Akron between 2009 and 2012, according to court documents.

“Harper may have been a doctor, but he sold drugs like a common street-level dealer. People who saw him became addicted, and some of them died from overdoses,” Dettelbach said. “We will continue to prosecute those who contribute to the heroin and opioid epidemic in our state.”

Steven D. Anthony, Special Agent in Charge of the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s Cleveland office, said: “Harper is deserving of every day of this sentence.  Harper took the trust he received simply for being a physician and used it to take advantage of those who were already suffering.  We want to thank our partners at the U.S. Health and Human Services, the DEA and the U.S. Attorney’s Office for working together to bring this case to light and this man to justice.”

“Dr. Harper ignored his primary responsibility of protecting his patient’s health and instead looked to exploit and take advantage of their condition. His actions were criminal and put the public’s safety at risk as well as vital taxpayer dollars,” said Lamont Pugh III, Special Agent in Charge, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Office of Inspector General – Chicago Region. “The OIG and its partners will continue our efforts to identify instances where physicians abuse the public’s trust and ensure that they are held accountable.”

All four defendants conspired to distribute addictive controlled substances, including prescription painkillers and anti-anxiety medication, outside the usual course of professional practice and without any legitimate medical purpose, according to court documents.

Adolph Harper’s customers, many of whom were drug addicts exhibiting clear signs of drug addiction during their visits to his office, came to his office and received “prescriptions” for addictive prescription medications without being examined by Harper and often without seeing him at all, according to the court documents.

Harper continued to distribute prescriptions for controlled substances after he learned that some of his customers had died from overdose-related deaths. He also continued to distribute narcotics to customers who had overdosed on controlled substances he had earlier prescribed, according to the court documents.
For example, a customer identified in court documents as K.C. was hospitalized several times after overdosing on drugs prescribed by Harper. The hospital and others notified Harper of this fact, but he continued to prescribe narcotics to K.C. She died from an overdose of oxycodone less than a week after Harper prescribed even more oxycodone and alprazolam to her, according to court documents.

Adria Harper, Laughman and Berry distributed prescriptions to these customers when Adolph Harper was out of the office and also used Adolph Harper’s pre-signed prescription pad to distribute prescriptions for addictive painkillers to themselves, according to the court documents.

Additionally, Adolph Harper executed four separate schemes to defraud health insurance providers by (1) submitting insurance claims for services using a higher billing code than the service justified; (2) submitting insurance claims for unperformed services; (3) billing an insurance provider for a service after collecting a cash payment for the same service; and (4) causing the submission of insurance claims for prescriptions for controlled substances that were issued outside the usual course of professional practice and not for a legitimate medical purpose, according to court documents.

This case is being prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorneys Margaret A. Sweeney, Edward F. Feran, and Rebecca C. Lutzko following an investigation by the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the Department of Health and Human Services -- Office of the Inspector General, the Drug Enforcement Administration, the Ohio Board of Pharmacy and the Akron Police Department.

Updated March 12, 2015