Seven defendants involved in two clinics which operated “pill mills”, where tens of thousands of prescriptions for highly addictive opioids were dispensed, were sentenced this week in federal court, said Charles “Charlie” Peeler, the United States Attorney for the Middle District of Georgia.
On Wednesday, December 5, 2018, The Honorable Hugh Lawson sentenced Dr. William Bacon, 83, of St. Johns, FL to 72 months in prison and the forfeiture of over $95,000 and Dr. Donatus O. Mbanefo, 65, of Columbus, GA to 96 months in prison.
A jury found both Dr. Bacon and Dr. Mbanefo guilty of conspiracy to dispense controlled substances outside the usual course of medical practice and a legitimate medical purpose at clinics in Valdosta, Georgia and Columbus, Georgia. Dr. Mbanefo was also convicted of two additional counts of unlawful dispensation of controlled substances during the jury trial from May 29 to June 13, 2018 in Valdosta federal court.
Five co-conspirators previously entered guilty pleas for their involvement in or knowledge and concealment of the conspiracy and were sentenced in federal court on Thursday, December 6, 2018.
On charges of Conspiracy:
1. Carol Neema Biggs a/k/a Carol Johnson, 33, of Hollywood, FL: 60 months imprisonment, plus 36 months consecutive in prison for a total of 96 months imprisonment
2. Junior Alexander Biggs, 40, of Hollywood, FL: 50 months imprisonment, plus 36 months consecutive in prison for a total of 86 months imprisonment
3. Nilaja C. Biggs, 36 of Hialeah, FL: 36 months imprisonment
On charges of Knowledge and Concealment of the Conspiracy:
4. Shavonta Devon Bright, 35 of Miami, FL: 3 years probation
5. Ionie Whorms, 55 of Goose Creek, SC: 3 years probation
Dr. Vinod Shah, 69 of Salisbury, NC previously entered a guilty plea to involvement in the pill mill conspiracy and will be sentenced at a later date. Dr. Shah saw patients at the Relief Institute of Columbus in 2012-2013 and issued prescriptions for more than 398,000 Oxycodone pills and more than 100,000 Xanax and Soma pills.
Evidence presented during the trial showed that co-conspirators Carol Biggs, Nilija Biggs and Junior Biggs formed the Wellness Center of Valdosta (WCV) in June 2011, located at 2016 E. Adair Street, to operate as a pain clinic.
Dr. Bacon began working there in September 2011 and saw patients until the clinic closed. The clinic saw unrealistically large numbers of patients daily, including people from out of state, accepting no forms of insurance or government benefits but taking cash payments only.
No diagnostic testing was offered, and no alternative treatments outside prescribing large quantities of a “cocktail” of pain medications and other controlled substances were offered to patients. The “cocktail” generally included such highly addictive controlled substances as Oxycodone and Xanax, but also included Hydromorphone, Hydrocodone, Soma, Valium and Ambien.
During the approximately 27 months during which Dr. Bacon worked at the Wellness Center of Valdosta, he wrote more than 29,000 prescriptions for controlled substances.
In June 2012, Carol and Junior Biggs opened another pain clinic in Columbus known as the Relief Institute of Columbus. The Relief Institute of Columbus operated in the same fashion as the Wellness Center of Valdosta by unlawfully dispensing controlled substances.
Dr. Mbanefo saw patients at the Relief Institute between mid-March 2013 and mid-June 2013. During that three month period of time, Dr. Mbanefo wrote more than 2,900 prescriptions for controlled substances, including prescribing large quantities of Oxycodone and Xanax to an undercover agent, who had no legitimate medical issues.
The doctors at both clinics were paid $1200 to $1400 per day to see patients, with a bonus for Dr. Bacon when he saw more than 40 in a single day. During the operation of the two clinics, patients made cash payments of more than $2 million to see the doctors for prescriptions.
“Opioid addiction is destroying lives in our communities at an ever-increasing rate,” said Charles “Charlie” Peeler, the United States Attorney for the Middle District. “Doctors and medical professionals who profit from these illegal pill mills are doing serious harm to our society, and we will continue to work with our law enforcement partners to stop these lethal operations.”
The case was investigated by the Drug Enforcement Administration, the Georgia Bureau of Investigation and Internal Revenue Service – Criminal Investigation. Assistant United States Attorneys Robert D. McCullers and K. Alan Dasher prosecuted the case for the United States.