JAN 23 (SAVANNAH, Ga.) – Dr. Najam Azmat, 57, of Waycross, Georgia, was found guilty by a federal jury last week of all charges relating to his role the running of East Health Center, a pill-mill clinic that operated in Garden City in 2011. United States District Court Judge William T. Moore, Jr. presided over Azmat's five-day jury trial. Azmat was found guilty of conspiring to dispense oxycodone and other drugs without legitimate medical purpose, 49 counts of dispensing without legitimate medical purpose, and conspiracy to launder money. He will be sentenced at a future date and faces up to 20 years imprisonment on each count.
According to evidence presented at the trial, Azmat worked at East Health Center from February 21 to March 18, 2011. During that time, Azmat wrote prescriptions for 196 patients, 96% of whom received prescriptions for oxycodone, a powerful and highly addictive pain killer. Nearly two-thirds of the patients seen by Azmat traveled long distances to receive their prescriptions, often coming from Kentucky, Ohio, and Florida. Patients typically paid $300 to be seen by Azmat or one of the other doctors who worked at East Health Center following Azmat's departure on March 18, 2011. During the trial, patients testified that they were addicted to oxycodone and learned of the clinic through aggressive marketing techniques conducted by the clinic organizers at rival pill-mill clinics in Florida. Azmat was paid $2,000 per day, typically in cash, at the end of each day he worked.
Azmat had been indicted with five co-defendants. The following pleaded guilty to related offenses before trial:
Sean Michael Clark, age 34, Boca Raton, Florida (Conspiracy)
Adelaida M. Lizama, age 28, Boca Raton, Florida (Conspiracy)
Daniel John Wise, age 35, West Palm Beach, Florida (Conspiracy)
Candace Anne Carreras, age 26, Boca Raton, Florida (Misprision of Felony)
Shelly Lynn Morford, age 31, Fort Lauderdale, Florida (Misprision of Felony)
None of these other five defendants, who either organized or worked for the clinic, had any medical education, training or experience aside from having been associated with earlier pill-mill operations in South Florida. The organizers decided to open the clinic in Garden City because of changes in Florida law which restricted non-medical doctors from owning pain clinics. None of the other defendants had any connection to the state of Georgia before opening the clinic.
In addition to the defendants named in the indictment, other targets of the investigation previously pleaded guilty to offenses related to the phony pain clinic operation and are awaiting sentencing. Adelard LeFrancois, III, 44, of Boca Raton, Florida and Francis J. Barbuscia, 37, of Plantation, Florida, entered guilty pleas on August 3, 2012. Each pleaded guilty to conspiring to knowingly and intentionally distribute and dispense, and cause to be distributed and dispensed, quantities of controlled substances, including oxycodone, not for a legitimate medical purpose. Konstantinos Afthinos, 32, of Florida pleaded guilty to misprision of felony on November 5, 2012. On November 7, 2012, Dr. Kenneth Gossett, age 52, of Rome, Georgia, pleaded guilty to conspiring to knowingly and intentionally dispense controlled substances not for a legitimate medical purpose. These defendants have not yet been sentenced. Nuvest LLC, a Florida corporation which financed the startup costs for East Health Center, pleaded guilty to maintaining a drug-involved premises. The corporation, which provided the funds used to launch and operate the clinic, admitted that the clinic was opened for the purpose of dispensing oxycodone, hydrocodone, and other drugs without legitimate medical purpose. As part of a plea agreement, the corporation forfeited the sum of $2,000,000, representing proceeds of unlawful activity laundered by the corporation.
Harry S. Sommers, Special Agent in Charge of the DEA's Atlanta Field Division, stated, "The dispensing of addictive prescription pain medication under the guise of a doctor's care is not about the good of the community or an individual's specific health needs; it is about greed and those involved in pill-mill activity are in fact drug dealers. This investigation was a success because of the cooperative spirit between all agencies involved."
United States Attorney Edward Tarver said, "The United States Attorneys' Office, in partnership with federal, state, and local investigative agencies, has demonstrated time and again that illegitimate pain clinics such as East Health Center will be shut down, the participants prosecuted, and their money forfeited if they open in our neighborhoods. During the last two years, we have seen a number of pill-mills relocate their unlawful businesses to the State of Georgia. These pill-mills prey upon their so-called 'patients' by draining them of time and assets, fueling their drug addictions, and depriving them of legitimate medical treatment.
This case sends a strong message to would-be clinic operators that they are not welcome in the Southern District of Georgia and will be prosecuted."
Veronica F. Hyman-Pillot, IRS Special Agent in Charge, added, "We are proud to work with our law enforcement partners at the local, county, state, and federal levels, to bring to justice individuals who use their knowledge and power to commit crimes for their own personal gain. IRS Criminal Investigation is committed to 'following the money trail' to ensure that those who engage in these illegal activities are vigorously investigated and brought to justice."
"The conviction of Dr. Najam Azmat is a good example of positive results that occur when state and federal agencies combine efforts in addressing the illegal distribution of narcotics," said Scott Whitley, Special Agent in Charge of the Georgia Bureau of Investigation (GBI) Southeastern Regional Drug Enforcement Office. "The GBI remains committed to addressing pharmaceutical diversion and other drug crimes in the state of Georgia."
The investigation of East Health Center resulted from a joint investigation by the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), Georgia Bureau of Investigation (GBI), Chatham Savannah Counter Narcotics Team (CNT), the Internal Revenue Service (IRS), and the United States Marshals Service.
Assistant United States Attorneys Karl Knoche, Greg Gilluly, and Jeffrey Buerstatte prosecuted the case on behalf of the United States. For additional information, please contact First Assistant United States Attorney James D. Durham at (912) 201-2547.
The DEA encourages parents, along with their children, to educate themselves about the dangers of legal and illegal drugs by visiting DEA's interactive websites at www.justthinktwice.com, www.GetSmartAboutDrugs.com and www.dea.gov.