A pain clinic owner, an office manager and two doctors pleaded guilty and were sentenced this month for their roles in operating “pill mills” — years after federal agents raided three metro Atlanta clinics.
The clinics were set up under the name Atlanta Medical & Research Clinic (AMARC) by Godfrey Ilonzo and his wife, Bona Ilonzo. Former doctors Nevorn Askari and William Richardson worked with them to distribute huge amounts of Oxycodone and Xanax in potentially lethal doses for years.
Prosecutors in the case said the doctors knew, or should have known, that patients were misusing their prescriptions. Multiple patients and employees described crowded and unsanitary conditions in the clinic. “Swarming hoards of pill-seekers” were described receiving dangerous and highly addictive prescription drug cocktails after waiting all day to see a doctor, according to prosecutors.
Medical experts testified that they couldn’t find “a single prescription that had been issued or dispensed legitimately” in a random sample of hundreds of medical records from the pill mill, prosecutors noted in court documents.
The four defendants were indicted on federal charges in 2013, but were released from jail on a signature bond. The physicians were ordered not to dispense prescriptions for painkillers while the case was pending.
Askari, whose specialty was pediatrics, had previously been put on probation following a 2002 conviction in Walton County for billing Medicaid for services she didn’t provide, state medical board records show.
Despite Askari’s 2013 indictment, the medical board didn’t take public action against her until January 2016. The action allowed her to continue practice on the condition that she not prescribe any opioids and other drugs involved in the criminal case.
Last week, she surrendered her license.
Richardson, whose specialty was public health, had no public board orders, but the board website notes that he voluntarily surrendered his license. After Richardson pleaded guilty, he cooperated with prosecutors in the cases against the others involved in the pill mill operation, court filings say.
“There is no question that Dr. Richardson’s cooperation caused three other defendants to (plead) guilty…,” his attorney wrote in asking the court to limit the doctor’s sentence to 48 months.
The pill mill conspiracy worked in tandem with a south Atlanta pharmacy, Medicine Center. AMARC customers — who came from across Georgia, Alabama and Ohio — were directed to fill their prescriptions there.
Medicine Center, operated by Rosemary Ofume and her husband Donatus Iriele, was shut down by agents in May. Ofume and Iriele were convicted on federal drug and money laundering charges for illegally dispensing controlled narcotics to AMARC customers in March.
DEA and IRS agents found that AMARC clinics generated more than $3 million, and Medicine Center generated more than $5.1 million, from unlawful prescriptions.
U.S. District Judge Steve C. Jones imposed sentences on the four AMARC defendants ranging between four and 12 years, according to the Department of Justice. The Ilonzos, of Alpharetta, were ordered to forfeit about $20,000 in seized funds. Jones also ordered them each to pay $1.5 million in damages.
DEA special agent Dan Salter said the rogue “medical field” employees will now have plenty of time to reflect on the damages they have caused.
“These drug traffickers, dressed in white lab coats, can no longer cause damage to those addicted to pain medicine,” Salter said in a statement.
Sentencing for Ofume and Iriele is scheduled for July 20.
Lois Norder contributed to this article.
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