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Pain center chain linked to 700 patient deaths, largely due to opioids; 7 indicted

Two Italians and five Americans have been charged in a fraud and drug trafficking conspiracy to distribute opioids in Tennessee and Florida "pill mills." The alleged conspirators ran the Knoxville, Tenn.-based Urgent Care & Surgery Center Enterprise, which operated opioid based pain management clinics that led to the death of approximately 700 patients.

Here are six things you need to know:

1. The defendants include:

  • Luca Sartini
  • Luigi Palma (alias Jimmy Palma)
  • Benjamin Rodriguez
  • Sylvia Hofstetter
  • Courtney Newman, NP
  • Cynthia Clemons, NP
  • Holli Womack (Holli Carmichael), NP

Mr. Sartini and Mr. Palma were arrested in the Rome, Italy-area by Italian authorities. The United States seeks extradition. Prosecutors described Ms. Hofstetter as the largest drug dealer ever to appear in an East Tenn. federal courtroom.

Mr. Rodriguez is set to self-surrender and all other defendants were charged in previous indictments.

2. The defendants ran UCSC Enterprise from April 2009 to March 2015. The defendants allegedly hired medical providers with DEA registration numbers which allowed the providers to prescribe controlled substances. According to the DOJ's report, the prescriptions were typically written for large doses of controlled substances to individuals who had traveled long distances telling the physicians they suffered from severe chronic pain.

3. The superseding indictment alleges the defendants distributed oxycodone, oxymorphone and morphine in sufficient quantities to generate clinic revenue of at least $21 million.

4. The indictment alleges approximately 700 UCSC Enterprise patients are now dead and a significant percentage of those deaths resulted from overdosing on narcotics prescribed by the UCSC Enterprise.

5. The indictment also alleges that many patients arrived in groups sponsored by drug dealers who paid for the pain clinic visits and prescriptions to obtain all or part of the opioids and other narcotics prescribed to the patients. In return, opioid addicted patients would receive a portion of the prescribed narcotics for free from the sponsor.

6. As a result of the Attorney General's Opioid Fraud and Abuse Task Force Initiative investigation, approximately 30 narcotics traffickers have been charged and convicted federally. Approximately 80 to 90 smaller narcotics distributors have been charged and convicted. The Jan. 19 superseding indictment is among 35 related indictments charging about 140 individuals including medical providers employed at the pill mills.

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