After a four-year investigation, 12 people involved in a pain clinic in Southern West Virginia were indicted for their roles in an alleged “pill mill,” U.S. Attorney Michael Stuart announced Tuesday.
The owners, managers and physicians of HOPE Clinic were among those who were charged in the 69-count indictment that was unsealed Tuesday in U.S. District Court for the Southern District of West Virginia, in Beckley.
HOPE Clinic operated as a pain management clinic in Charleston, Beckley and Beaver, West Virginia, and in Wytheville, Virginia. The indictment alleges that those involved distributed oxycodone and other Schedule II controlled substances outside of their legitimate and intended medical purposes between November 2010 and June 2015.
“Homegrown drug dealers behind the veil of a doctor’s lab coat, a medical degree and prescription pad are every bit as bad as a drug dealer or heroin trafficker from Detroit or elsewhere,” Stuart said.
Dr. James Blume Jr. and Mark T. Radcliffe are accused of operating the clinic as a cash-based business and refusing to accept insurance for reimbursement for services and medications provided at the clinic.
Blume was the owner of HOPE Clinic and Radcliffe was the owner of Patients, Physicians and Pharmacists Fighting Diversion Inc., commonly referred to as PPPFD. Radcliffe was the practice manager at the HOPE Clinic, per a physician practice management agreement he entered with Blume, Stuart said.
Blume and Radcliffe allegedly contracted services of physicians who had no knowledge of pain management and who consistently conducted “cursory, incomplete or no medical examinations of clinic customers,” according to the indictment.
The physicians prescribed thousands of pills to patients who they had reason to believe were drug addicts, according to the indictment.
At least two HOPE Clinic patients overdosed and died, Stuart said.
Even though they had no medical training, Mark Radcliffe and his son, Josh Radcliffe, instructed medical practitioners at the clinics to provide customers at the clinic with prescriptions for the Schedule II substances, sometimes in direct contrast to the practitioners’ clinical opinions, according to the indictment.
The HOPE Clinic in Charleston closed in February 2015, after West Virginia Office of Health Facility Licensure officials concluded that the clinic put patients’ health and safety at risk.
At the clinic, previously located on the 4400 block of MacCorkle Avenue in Kanawha City, gun-toting ex-police officers, called “narcotics auditors,” essentially ran the facility and used a special machine to churn out large quantities of pain-pill prescriptions for patients while doctors watched from the sidelines, according to the state inspection report.
The West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources shut down the HOPE Clinic in Beaver in April 2015, with similar reports of narcotics auditors. The clinic was cited for dozens of deficiencies that put patients’ health and safety at risk, according to a state report.
A PPPFD official told West Virginia lawmakers in 2014 that the narcotics auditors were part of a new practice to help curb West Virginia’s prescription drug problem.
In a related case, a federal information was filed against John Pellegrini, charging him with conspiracy to commit money laundering. He faces up to 20 years in federal prison, Stuart said.
An information is a way of filing charges against a person, and that method of bringing charges against a person usually indicates the defendant has agreed to cooperate with prosecutors in the case.
If convicted on all charges as alleged in the indictment, the remaining defendants face anywhere between 40 and 340 years in prison.
Each person named in the indictment was charged with one count of conspiracy to distribute and dispense oxycodone.
Joshua Radcliffe, Mark Clarkson and Teresa Emerson were indicted only on the conspiracy charge.
Everyone else named in the indictment were charged as follows:
- James T. Blume Jr.: three counts of maintaining a drug-involved premises; one count of conspiracy to money launder.
- Mark T. Radcliffe: three counts of maintaining a drug-involved premises; one count of conspiracy to money launder.
- Michael T. Moran: one count of distribution of controlled substances; one count of conspiracy to money launder.
- Sanjay Mehta: 15 counts of distribution of controlled substances; two counts of distributing drugs causing death; one count of conspiracy to money launder.
- Brian Gullett: 15 counts of distribution of controlled substances; one count of conspiracy to money launder.
- Vernon Stanley: One count of conspiracy to money launder.
- William Earley: Eight counts of distribution of controlled substances; one count of conspiracy to money launder.
- Paul W. Burke: Seven counts of distribution of controlled substances; one count of conspiracy to money launder.
- Roswell Tempest Lowery: Four counts of distribution of controlled substances; one count of conspiracy to money launder.
The federal charges follow a four-year investigation among 11 law enforcement agencies: The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Office of the Inspector General; IRS; Federal Drug Administration; FBI; DEA; West Virginia State Police; Metro Drug Enforcement Network Team; Beckley Police Department; Kentucky State Police; Harrison County, Kentucky, Sheriff’s Department; and the Appalachia High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area.