AUG 13 (SAVANNAH, Ga.) - Dr. Najam Azmat57, of Waycross, Georgia, was sentenced in the United States District Court on August 6, 2014 to serve 11 years and 1 month in prison. On January 17, 2014, a federal jury found Azmat guilty of numerous offenses related to his role in a pill mill clinic that operated in Garden City, Georgia in 2011. The offenses of which Azmat was found guilty included conspiracy to dispense oxycodone and other drugs without legitimate medical purpose, 49 counts of dispensing without legitimate medical purpose, and conspiracy to launder money. United States District Court Judge William T. Moore, Jr. presided over Azmat’s five-day jury trial and imposed his sentence.
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 was indicted with five co-defendants, each of whom was recently sentenced to terms of imprisonment by Judge Moore on the dates indicated:
Sean Michael Clark, 34, Boca Raton, Florida (Conspiracy) 40 months on August 1;
Adelaida M. Lizama, 28, Boca Raton, Florida (Conspiracy) 18 months on August 4;
Daniel John Wise, 35, West Palm Beach, Florida (Conspiracy) 42 months on July 30;
Candace A. Carreras, 27, Boca Raton, Florida (Conspiracy) 24 months on August 4;
Shelly Lynn Morford, 32, Fort Lauderdale, Florida (Misprision of Felony) 13 months on July 9.
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 have also been sentenced by Judge Moore:
Adelard LeFrancois III, 44, Boca Raton, Florida (Conspiracy) 54 months on July 30;
Francis J. Barbuscia, 38, Plantation, Florida, (Conspiracy) 42 months on July 30;
Konstantinos Afthinos, 34, Lake Worth, Florida (Misprision of Felony) 15 months on August 1;
Dr. Kenneth Gossett, 53, Rome, Georgia, (Conspiracy) 42 months on August 1.
Nuvest LLC, a Florida corporation which financed the startup costs for East Health Center, pleaded guilty to maintaining 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 million, representing proceeds of unlawful activity laundered by the corporation.
Eight of the other nine defendants, who either organized or worked for the clinic, had never 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 had any connection to the State of Georgia before opening the clinic.
United States Attorney Edward Tarver said, “The United States Attorney’s Office, in partnership with federal, state, and local investigative agencies, will continue to aggressively prosecute the participants in illegitimate pain clinics. 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. As we have demonstrated through numerous prosecutions in the last two years, our intention is to shut down these pill mills, prosecute the participants, and forfeit their illegal proceeds. I trust a strong message of warning has been sent to anyone considering such unlawful ventures in the Southern District 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.
John S. Comer, the Acting 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; in this case, it was about the greed of a physician who oversaw the operations of this pill mill. DEA and its law enforcement partners will continue to expend their time, energy, and resources in an effort to stem the tide against the growing prescription drug abuse problem.”
“The resolution of the Azmat case is a good example of the 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 GBI Southeastern Regional Drug Enforcement Office. “The abuse of prescription narcotics is a critical issue which the GBI remains committed to addressing in various ways. These include the investigation of rogue medical offices which exist for the sole purpose of the illegal distribution of controlled narcotics.”
Chatham Savannah Counter Narcotics Team Director Dwane E. Ragan noted, “The investigation and prosecution of the East Health Center is a classic example of local, state, and federal agencies working together to dismantle an organization who preyed upon the weakness and addictions of many of our citizens. The successful prosecution of this case eliminated a notorious pill mill from our community.”
“Those individuals who line their pockets with money gained through preying on so-called patients will not go undetected and will be held accountable,” stated Special Agent in Charge, Veronica F. Hyman-Pillot. “The Azmat sentence is a vital element in maintaining public confidence that these individuals and others who commit similar crimes will be held accountable.”
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.