By ZEINAB NAJM
HEIGHTS — Pharmacist Ali Sabbagh, 36, of Dearborn Heights was one of 19 healthcare professionals indicted in a $41 million illegal opioid distribution conspiracy.
Eastern District of Michigan U.S. Attorney Matthew Schneider announced that the individuals were charged with conspiracy to illegally distribute prescription drugs.
According to the June 11 U.S. District Court for Eastern District of Michigan news release, the 44-count indictment includes charges of alleged drug conspiracy involving prescription drug controlled substances including Oxycodone, Oxymorphone, Oxycodone-Acetaminophen (Percocet), Hydrocodone, Hydrocodone-Acetaminophen, promethazine with codeine cough syrup and other drugs.
Along with Sabbagh,a clinic owner, four doctors, two nurse practitioners and two other pharmacists were indicted. The 18 other individuals named in the news release were Robert King, 38, of Taylor; John Henry Rankin, III, 46, of Detroit; Dr. Beth Carter, 56, of Southfield; Dr. Robert Kenewell, 52, of Auburn Hills; Dr. Jason Brunt, 50, of Clawson; Dr. John Swan, 30, of St. Clair Shores; Nurse Practitioner Jean Pinkard, 63, of Farmington Hills; Nurse Practitioner Toni Green, 58, of St. Clair Shores; Fitzgerald Hudson, 60, of Southfield; Virendra Gaidhane, 49, of Troy; Pharmacist Maksudali Saiyad, 65, of Troy; Pharmacist Adeniyi Adepoju, 61, of Warren; Jermaine Hamblin, 36, of Roseville; Sonya Mitchell, 50, of Southfield; Lavar Carter, 56, of Southfield; Robert Lee Dower, Jr., 49 of Eastpointe; Denise Sailes, 51 of Detroit; and Dewayne Bason, 28, of Detroit.
The indictment alleges that from September 2017 through June, Rankin, owner of New Vision Rehab and Preferred Rehab clinics would provide monetary remuneration and other illegal benefits to Carter, Kenewell, Brunt, Swan, Pinkard and Green to induce them to write prescriptions for “fake” patients, who did not have a legitimate medical need for the drugs.
Rankin also allegedly provided monetary remuneration to an unlicensed medical professional, who was not legally authorized to prescribe controlled substances or practice as a doctor, who would pose as a doctor and issue pre-signed controlled substance prescriptions in the names of other providers, the news release said.
It is also alleged that the medical professionals named in the indictment prescribed more than 1.9 million dosage units of Schedule II controlled substances. The prescribed Oxycodone and Oxymorphone, alone, carried a conservative street value of more than $41 million. Oxycodone and Oxymorphone are two of the most addictive opioids and they have high street value.
Patients were recruited into the conspiracy by patient recruiters or “marketers,” to include King and Hamblin, the news release said.
The indictment further alleges that during this conspiracy, prescriptions were presented to Detroit New Hope Pharmacy (owner Gaidhane, pharmacist Saiyad, pharmacy technician Bason), Synergy Pharmacy (pharmacy technician Bason), Nottingham Pharmacy (owner Gaidhane), Crownz Medical Pharmacy (pharmacist Adepoju), Franklin Healthmart (pharmacist Sabbagh).
Some of the pharmacists would bill insurers, including Medicare, Medicaid, and private insurers, for dispensing the medications, despite the fact that the medications were medically unnecessary, the news release said. Other times, the pharmacists allegedly accepted cash from the recruiters for filling and dispensing medications.
According to the indictment, the pharmacies dispensed more than 58,725 dosage units of Schedule II controlled substances prescribed by the medical professionals listed in the indictment.
“Prescription drugs are supposed to go to people who truly need them, not to fake patients or people selling drugs on the streets,” Schneider said. “We are focusing on charging doctors, pharmacists, and the networks that add to the opioid crisis, and this case is unfortunately yet another example of the serious problem facing Michigan.”
“These enforcement actions and others like them around the country, demonstrate our commitment to prosecuting licensed professionals who flood communities with addictive legal drugs for their own personal benefit,” U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration Detroit Field Division Special Agent in Charge Keith Martin said.
“Today’s indictments are the result of healthcare professionals allegedly contributing to the devastating opioid crisis instead of working toward its solution,” Special Agent in Charge of the FBI in Michigan Steven M. D’Antuono said. “The public expects and deserves more from them.”
This case is being prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorneys Brandy R. McMillion and Mitra Jafary-Hariri. According to the news release, the Eastern District of Michigan is one of the 12 districts included in the Opioid Fraud Abuse and Detection Unit, a Department of Justice initiative created by Attorney General Jeff Sessions, that uses data to target and prosecute individuals that are contributing to the nation’s opioid crisis.
The opioid distribution conspiracy case was investigated by special agents and task force officers of the Drug Enforcement Administration, the FBI, and the Department of Health and Human Services, Office of Inspector General.
An indictment is only a charge and is not evidence of guilt, the news release said. Each defendant is entitled to a fair trial in which it will be the government’s burden to prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.
(Zeinab Najm can be reached at [email protected])