Indictment stands in $17.5M pill mill operation after agents destroy 2K patient files

An indictment in an alleged pill mill operation was upheld despite the DEA's destruction of nearly 2,000 patient files that could have been used as evidence, according to knox news, part of the USA Today network. 

U.S. Magistrate Judge Debra C. Poplin ruled that the DEA's handling of the files while investigating the case was negligent but not malicious, allowing an indictment against Sylvia Hofstetter to stand.

Ms. Hofstetter, Luca Sartini, Luigi Palma and Benjamin Rodriguez were charged in a massive pill mill scheme that authorities have called the largest and deadliest in East Tennessee. Ms. Hofstetter — who authorities claim led the operation with net earnings of nearly $17.5 million — was arrested and indicted on nine counts.

The scheme was allegedly a spinoff of an urgent care and surgery center network that Mr. Sartini, Mr. Palma and Mr. Rodriguez operated in South Florida, which authorities began investigating in 2010.

The DEA seized nearly 2,000 patient files from one Florida clinic in 2010. A local detective and DEA task force member tried using the files — and evidence of more than 20 patient deaths — to bring the case to prosecution, but the U.S. Attorney's Office in Fort Lauderdale was overwhelmed with other cases and declined to bring charges.

Under scrutiny from Florida authorities, the conspirators allegedly moved their operation to East Tennessee in 2011.

In 2015, FBI agents raided several Tennessee pain and urgent care clinics and alleged the facilities were involved in a cash-for-opiates scheme that generated $21 million in profit over four years. The clinics reportedly prescribed millions of painkillers to addicts, some causing death.

As a result, in November 2015, a detective on an FBI task force in Tennessee requested the 2,000 patient files that Florida agents had seized in 2010. But between January and March 2016, a DEA agent who had taken over the Florida case destroyed all the files at his boss's request.

Ms. Hofstetter's attorney asked the court to toss out her indictment, claiming the files may have proved her innocence. Prosecutors said there was no proof the files would have helped Ms. Hofstetter's case, and that similar evidence had been preserved.

Ms. Hofstetter's attorney may appeal the ruling that upheld her indictment. Her trial is scheduled to begin in October.

More articles on anesthesia:
American Pain Society considers bankruptcy — 4 details
NAPA anesthesiologists win national performance accolade — 4 details
Viewpoint: How payers are suppressing anesthesia payments — 3 observations

 

 

© Copyright ASC COMMUNICATIONS 2019. Interested in LINKING to or REPRINTING this content? View our policies by clicking here.

 

Top 40 Articles from the Past 6 Months