Two physicians, a pain clinic owner and pain clinic manager turned themselves in to authorities Tuesday on federal charges related to the illegal sale and distribution of painkillers at three pain clinics in metro Atlanta.
The four defendants pleaded not guilty before U.S. Chief Magistrate Judge Janet F. King, who then allowed them to be released from jail on a signature bond. However, King ordered the two physicians, internal medicine practicioner Dr. William Richardson and pediatrician Dr. Nevorn Askari, not to dispense prescriptions for painkillers while the case is pending. The doctors’ practices will also be subject to searches by probation officers as a condition of bond.
The indictment alleges that clinic owner Godfrey Ilonzo and his wife, Bona Ilonzo set up three pain management clinics under the name of Atlanta Medical & Research Clinic (AMARC) on Lakewood Avenue in Southeast Atlanta, on Senoia Road in Tyrone, and on Edgewood Avenue in Atlanta.
The foursome worked together to distribute huge amounts of Oxycodone and Alprazolam (Xanax) in potentially lethal doses between mid-2009 and August 2011, when federal agents raided the clinics, according to Assistant U.S. Attorney Laurel Boatright.
According to the indictment, the doctors were not verifying their patients’ medical complaints, obtaining adequate medical histories, performing complete physical examinations or sufficiently discussing other treatment options. Prosecutors said AMARC tried to avoid creating a paper trail for their income by operating as primarily a cash-only business. Doctors were paid at the end of each day with a money order. The indictments were on federal drug conspiracy and money laundering charges.
Patients — many of whom came in groups from surrounding counties or from out-of-state — were given an appointment date, but not a time. They often lined up outside the entrance early in the morning to get in line to see the physician, the indictment states. To avoid suspicion, the clinic operators allegedly employed security guards that directed patients to wait in their cars. They then called patients’ cell phones when a physician was available, the indictment said.
The defendants face a maximum of 20 years in prison and a fine of up to $250,000.
After a rough week in Washington, President Barack Obama came to rainy Atlanta on Sunday to be with a friendlier crowd, becoming the first sitting president to give the commencement address at Morehouse College.