Eleven Defendants Convicted by Guilty Plea as a Result of the First ARPO Takedown in April
The Justice Department announced today the second coordinated law enforcement action of the Appalachian Region Prescription Opioid (ARPO) strike force, resulting in charges against 13 individuals across five Appalachian federal districts for alleged offenses relating to the over prescription of controlled substances through “pill mill” clinics. Of those charged, 12 were charged for their role in unlawfully distributing opioids and other controlled substances and 11 were physicians. The alleged conduct resulted in the distribution of more than 17 million pills.
This action follows the first such takedown in April of this year, which involved charges against 60 defendants, including 53 medical professionals, in 11 federal districts, alleging the illegal distribution of more than 23 million pills. The charges brought in April have already resulted in 11 guilty pleas in seven federal districts, including guilty pleas by nine medical professionals, including seven physicians.
The charges announced today aggressively prosecute medical professionals whose alleged prescribing behaviors have contributed to the opioid epidemic, particularly medical professionals who are involved in the unlawful distribution of opioids and other prescription narcotics, a particular focus for the Department. According to the CDC, approximately 115 Americans die every day of an opioid-related overdose.
Today’s enforcement actions were led and coordinated by the Health Care Fraud Unit of the Criminal Division’s Fraud Section in conjunction with its ARPO Strike Force, a partnership between the Criminal Division, U.S. Attorney’s Offices, the FBI, DEA and the U.S. Health and Human Services-Office of Inspector General (HHS-OIG). In addition, the operation includes the participation of various other federal, state and local law enforcement agencies, including the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation (TBI), Ohio Medicaid Fraud Control Unit and West Virginia Medicaid Fraud Control Unit. Additionally, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, Center for Program Integrity (CMS/CPI) announced today that all appropriate administrative actions would be taken based on these charges.
“The Department of Justice will not relent in its aggressive pursuit of those responsible for fueling the opioid epidemic in Appalachia,” said Assistant Attorney General Brian A. Benczkowski of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division. “Medical professionals who violate their solemn oaths and peddle opioids for profit should know that we will find you and ensure that the justice system treats you like the drug dealer you are.”
“We have taken a very tough stance against those that fuel the opiate crisis at every level including pill writers, pill fillers and drug dealers,” said U.S. Attorney Mike Stuart of the Southern District of West Virginia. “The unlawful distribution of controlled substances is a serious matter that gets my office’s full attention. It is one of our highest priorities for prosecution as we continue with our efforts to protect the public and the people of West Virginia. And for those that struggle or have a loved one that struggles with addiction and substance use disorder, I again urge treatment and recovery. While we remain tough in our actions against those who feed this crisis, my sincere and prayerful hope is that everyone who needs help gets help on their path to true recovery.”
“From street corner to clinic, the Department of Justice continues to show its resolve in bringing to justice those responsible for the opioid crisis in America,” said U.S. Attorney Jay E. Town of the Northern District of Alabama. “A federal courtroom awaits those who have sacrificed the efficacy of care for the evils of greed.”
“We said in April that the ARPO strike force was not a one-and-done spectacle, but an enduring commitment to stamp out opioid trafficking by prescription pad. We meant it,” said U.S. Attorney Benjamin C. Glassman of the Southern District of Ohio. “It’s thanks to the partnership between U.S. Attorney’s offices, the Criminal Division and our law enforcement partners that the United States is able to investigate and prosecute not only medical professionals who are allegedly acting as drug dealers, but also the myriad other malefactors who have contributed—and are contributing—to the opioid epidemic.”
“Opioid misuse and abuse is an insidious epidemic, and unfortunately, causes individuals to engage in criminal behavior that contributes to the problem,” said U.S. Attorney D. Michael Dunavant of the Western District of Tennessee. “Just as this office will hold medical professionals accountable for over-prescribing opioids, we will also pursue federal charges against any person who exploits the medical profession for their own selfish desire to obtain highly addictive prescription drugs by dishonest methods.”
“Today marks another successful operation by the Appalachian Regional Prescription Opioid Strike Force against the illegal distribution of opioids which endanger our neighbors and the communities we live in,” said Assistant Director Terry Wade of the FBI’s Criminal Investigative Division. “Through strong cooperation between the FBI and its law enforcement partners, the Strike Force’s coordinated efforts resulted in bringing those responsible for this egregious and costly epidemic to justice. The FBI will continue to make illegal opioid distribution investigations a top priority.”
“Illegal diversion of opioids and other controlled substances may lead to drug addiction and deaths, as well as a drain on resources that could be used to provide legitimate healthcare services,” said Special Agent in Charge Maureen R. Dixon of HHS-OIG. “We will continue to work closely with our law enforcement partners to bring criminals to justice, and enable honest healthcare providers to better serve Medicare and Medicaid beneficiaries.”
“The opioid epidemic continues to have deadly consequences for our state,” said Assistant Director Mike Cox of the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation Medicaid Fraud Control Division. “We will continue working with our law enforcement partners to target dishonest healthcare professionals who contribute to the problem by illegitimately prescribing opioids and other medications for profit.”
In the Southern District of Ohio, four medical professionals were charged, including three medical doctors and one doctor of osteopathy, in connection with several alleged “pill mill” controlled substance diversion and/or health care fraud schemes.
Troy Balgo, D.O., 53, of Saint Clairsville, Ohio, the elected county coroner of Belmont County, Ohio, was charged with one count of health care fraud, one count of conspiracy to commit health care fraud, six counts of unlawful distribution of controlled substance and one count of conspiracy to commit unlawful distribution of controlled substances. These charges are based on an alleged scheme by which Balgo caused and/or conspired with others to cause submissions for health care services that he did not perform, and to prescribe controlled substances while he was out of the state or country. Balgo is the owner and operator of two medical clinics in St. Clairsville, Belmont County. The DEA, FBI and HHS-OIG, as well as the U.S. Department of Defense Office of Inspector General (DOD-OIG), the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL), the Ohio Attorney General’s Office, the Ohio Bureau of Worker’s Compensation and the Ohio Board of Pharmacy investigated this case. The case is being prosecuted by Trial Attorney Christopher Jason of the Criminal Division’s Fraud Section.
George Griffin, M.D., 70, of Cincinnati, Ohio, was charged with 20 counts of distribution of controlled substances for his alleged participation in the unlawful prescription of controlled substances outside of the course of professional practice and without a legitimate medical purpose. Griffin owns and operates a solo medical practice in Cincinnati, Hamilton County. The DEA, FBI and HHS-OIG, as well as DOD-OIG, the Ohio Attorney General’s Office, the Ohio Bureau of Worker’s Compensation and the Ohio Board of Pharmacy investigated this case. The case is being prosecuted by Trial Attorney Christopher Jason of the Criminal Division’s Fraud Section.
Freeda Flynn, M.D., 66, of Saint Clairsville, Ohio, was charged with eight counts of distribution of controlled substances, and one count of health care fraud, for her alleged participation in the unlawful prescription of controlled substances outside of the course of professional practice and without a legitimate medical purpose, and health care fraud for the submission of claims for services which were medically unnecessary and/or performed below medically-accepted standards. Flynn owns and operates a solo practice with focuses on medical and opioid addiction treatment programs in St. Clairsville, Belmont County. The DEA, FBI, HHS, as well as DOD-OIG, the Ohio Attorney General’s Office and the Ohio Board of Pharmacy investigated this case. The case is being prosecuted by Trial Attorney Christopher Jason of the Criminal Division’s Fraud Section.
Thomas Romano, M.D., 69, of Wheeling, West Virginia, was charged with 20 counts of diversion of controlled substances for his alleged participation in the unlawful prescription of controlled substances outside of the course of professional practice and without a legitimate medical purpose. Romano owns and operates a solo cash-only medical practice in Martin’s Ferry, Belmont County. The DEA, FBI and HHS-OIG, as well as the Ohio Bureau of Worker’s Compensation and Ohio Board of Pharmacy investigated this case. The case is being prosecuted by Trial Attorney Christopher Jason of the Criminal Division’s Fraud Section.