Multi-State Opioid Crackdown Nets Indictment Against 7 Physicians

Aine Cryts

May 05, 2022

Seven physicians were among 12 medical professionals charged today by the US Department of Justice (DOJ) with opioid distribution offenses.

In coordination with federal and state law enforcement, the DOJ charged the defendants for their involvement in the illegal distribution of opioids. At the time that they were charged with the alleged offenses, twelve of the defendants were medical professionals.

The twelve persons in eight federal districts across the country distributed more than 115 million controlled substances, including buprenorphine, clonazepam, dextroamphetamine-amphetamine, hydrocodone, morphine sulfate, oxycodone, oxymorphone, and Suboxone, per the DOJ.

"Doctors and health care professionals are entrusted with prescribing medicine responsibly and in the best interests of their patients. Today's takedown targets medical providers across the country whose greed drove them to abandon this responsibility in favor of criminal profits," said Administrator Anne Milgram of the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA).

Medical Professionals, Others Across Six States Charged

One former nurse, one business manager, and one individual who practiced medicine without a medical credential are among those listed in the indictment. These include the following:

  • Eskender Getachew, MD, a Columbus, Ohio, sleep medicine specialist, was charged with unlawful distribution of controlled substances outside the use of professional practice and not for a legitimate medical practice.

  • Charles Kistler, DO, an Upper Arlington, Ohio, family practice physician, was charged with unlawful distribution of controlled substances for unlawful prescribing at Midtown Family Practice Clinic in Columbus, Ohio.

  • Yogeshwar Gil, MBBS, a Manchester, Tennessee, family medicine doctor and owner of a medical practice, was charged with conspiracy to unlawfully distribute controlled substances and maintaining a drug-involved premises. Gil was charged in connection with an alleged scheme to distribute opioids and Suboxone outside the usual course of professional practice and without a legitimate medical purpose.

  • Contessa Holley, RN, a Pulaski, Tennessee, former nurse and clinical director, was charged with wire fraud, aggravated identity theft, and possession of a controlled substance with intent to distribute. She's alleged to be connected with a scheme to unlawfully obtain opioids by filling fraudulent prescriptions in the names of current and former patients who were in hospice. The indictment alleged that Holley used the patients' hospice benefits to cover the opioids' costs while keeping the drugs for her own use and for further distribution.

  • Francene Aretha Gayle, MD, an Orlando, Florida, physician, was charged with conspiracy to unlawfully distribute controlled substances, conspiracy to commit healthcare fraud, healthcare fraud, and several substantive counts of illegally issuing opioid prescriptions. Gayle was charged along with Schara Monique Davis, a Huntsville, Alabama–based business manager.

Per the indictment, Gayle and Davis operated three medical clinics in Alabama, where Gayle was the sole physician. The medical clinics billed health insurers for millions of dollars in patient visits that Gayle had supposedly conducted but during which she was allegedly absent from the clinics; other staff members conducted the visits instead. It's alleged that Gayle pre-signed prescriptions for opioids that were given to patients.

  • Robert Taffet, MD, a Haddonfield, New Jersey, orthopedic surgeon and owner of a medical practice in Sicklerville, New Jersey, was charged with conspiracy to unlawfully distribute controlled substances. The indictment alleges that he falsified patient files to state that he interacted with patients when he didn't and that he issued prescriptions for opioids and other controlled substances without assessing the patients in person or by telemedicine. It's alleged that Taffett issued prescriptions for more than 179,000 pills that were dispensed by New Jersey pharmacies between April 2020 and December 2021.

  • Hau La, MD, a Brentwood, Tennessee, family medicine physician and the operator of Absolute Medical Care in Smyrna, Tennessee, was charged with sixteen counts of unlawful distribution of a controlled substance. The physician is alleged to have unlawfully prescribed opioids to eight patients outside the usual course of practice and without a legitimate medical purpose.

  • Frederick De Mesa, of War, West Virginia, practiced as a physician and used a DEA registration number that allowed him to prescribe controlled substances. De Mesa prescribed these substances without a medical license and didn't have an active DEA registration number, according to the indictment.

  • Loey Kousa, a former internist from Paintsville, Kentucky, was charged with unlawful distribution of controlled substances, healthcare fraud, and making false statements in connection with the delivery of healthcare services. The indictment alleges that the former physician issued prescriptions for opioids outside the usual course of professional practice and without a legitimate medical purpose in his capacity as owner and operator of East KY Clinic in Paintsville. Kousa is alleged to have issued the unlawful prescriptions for patients whose treatments were covered by taxpayer-funded programs such as Medicare and Medicaid; he also billed these programs for medically unnecessary procedures for these patients.

Also included in the indictment were Jay Sadrinia, DMD, a Villa Hills, Kentucky, dentist, who was charged with four counts of illegal distribution of oxycodone and morphine sulfate and one count of illegal distribution of morphine sulfate that resulted in death or serious bodily injury; and Casey Kelleher, an owner-operator of Neighborhood Pharmacy in Boynton Beach, Florida, who allegedly sold large amounts of oxycodone and hydromorphone on the black market.

The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services' (CMS') Center for Program Integrity has taken six administrative actions against healthcare providers for their alleged involvement in these offenses, per the DOJ's announcement.

"Patient care and safety are top priorities for us, and CMS has taken administrative action against six providers to protect critical resources entrusted to Medicare while also safeguarding people with Medicare," said CMS Administrator Chiquita Brooks-LaSure.

"These actions to combat fraud, waste, and abuse in our federal programs would not be possible without the close and successful partnership of the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, the Department of Justice, and the US Department of Health and Human Services Office of Inspector General," she added.

Aine Cryts is a veteran health IT and healthcare writer based out of Boston.

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