Operation Pill Nation Strikes Again with Phase II Takedown
AUG 16– (MIAMI) – Seven doctors, three clinic owners and one of their relatives have been charged with racketeering and other criminal violations in South Florida. This morning’s operation, which is part of Operation Pill Nation, was announced by Mark R. Trouville, Special Agent in Charge, Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), Miami Field Division; Pam Bondi, Attorney General of Florida, and Al Lamberti, Sheriff, Broward County Sheriff’s Office (BSO). The arrests come following a three year investigation led by the DEA in conjunction with the BSO, and the Attorney General’s Office of Statewide Prosecution.
The defendants, Steven August Edson (40, Coral Springs), Bruno Balbi (29, Deerfield Beach), Francisco Carlos Balbi (57, Deerfield Beach), Dr. Thomas Rodenberg (53, Ft. Lauderdale), Dr. Gabriel Sanchez (74, Tamarac), Dr. Mark Cukierman (56, Boca), and Dr. Marcia Sills (59, Ft. Lauderdale) are charged with racketeering and conspiracy to commit racketeering. Additionally, Edson and the Balbi’s are charged with trafficking in a controlled substance, conspiracy to traffic in a controlled substance and money laundering. Aline Balbi Leca (31, Deerfield Beach) is charged, along with the three owners, with conspiracy to commit money laundering. Dr. Michael Fronstin (75, Palm Beach Gardens), Dr. Adeline Essian (59, Illinois) and Dr. Khanh Van Kim Duong (33, New York), are charged with illegally prescribing a controlled substance by a practitioner. All defendants, except Leca, have been charged with several counts of delivery of a controlled substance.
“Due to the success of Operation Pill Nation, these defendants will no longer push drugs under the guise of legitimate medical practices,” said DEA Special Agent in Charge Mark Trouville. “The DEA will remain focused on working with our state and local law partners until these pill mills and rouge doctors are put out of business.”
“These 11 people are allegedly responsible for threatening the lives of countless Floridians by illegally distributing thousands of pills in South Florida,” stated Attorney General Pam Bondi. “My office is committed to putting these drug dealers behind bars, and we will continue to work with law enforcement at every level to make Florida a safer place.”
“Two years ago Broward County was ground zero for pill mills with more pain clinics than McDonalds or Starbucks,” Broward Sheriff Al Lamberti said. “Working with our local, state and federal partners we have driven away many of the pill pushers but we need to stay engaged in this fight.”
Today’s operation resulted in the arrest of ten defendants. Only Dr. Thomas Rodenberg remains at large. In addition, seven vehicles and eleven weapons were seized. Also a search warrant was executed at Pompano Beach Medical, 750 E. Sample Road, Bldg. 1, Unit 5, Pompano Beach, Florida.
This investigation began in August 2009 based on a complaint from a former employee, Dr. Mario O. LaPlume. Dr. LaPlume had briefly worked at Pompano Beach Medical, formerly known as Pain Management Inc. in Pompano Beach. The doctor informed investigators that after he left the clinic’s employment, he was requested to retroactively sign a power of attorney which would grant the owners of the clinic, his employers, Bruno Balbi and/or Steven Edson, the authorization to sign Dr. LaPlume’s DEA Order Forms. The purpose of these forms is to permit a doctor to order controlled substances. Dr. LaPlume became suspicious when he did not recognize the DEA number on the “power of attorney” which was presented for his signature. The investigation revealed that, without authorization, Steven Edson had applied for a DEA registration number using Dr. LaPlume’s personal identification. Francisco Balbi paid for the application. Once approved and a DEA registration number assigned, Bruno Balbi opened an account with a pharmaceutical wholesale company and ordered 13,400 Oxycodone tablets for dispensing from the clinic.
Between April 2010 and July 2012, undercover agents visited the clinic on multiple occasions. The agents were prescribed controlled substances on every visit although none of the agents displayed significant pathologies worthy of the lethal medications. Law enforcement received a total of 55 prescriptions for controlled substances, including oxycodone, and other non-controlled substances. The total number of each pill prescribed is: 820 oxycodone 15mg, 2148 oxycodone 30mg, 30 Methadone 10mg, 60 hydrocodone 7.5/400mg, 75 hydrocodone 7.5/500mg, 30 alprazolam 2mg, 28 Klonopin 1mg, 15 Valium 10mg, 28 Flexeril 10mg, 112 Ibuprofen 400mg, 58 Ibuprofen 800mg, and 683 Soma 350mg tablets, obtained as pills and amounts reflected on prescriptions.
Each undercover visit was reviewed by a board certified medical expert in pain management. In the findings the expert opined that the examinations were below the ordinary standard of care. In doing so the expert indicated that “Pompano Beach Medical does not follow the usual course of medical treatment for patients suffering from pain. They very freely provide lethal prescriptions to patients on a cash basis and contribute in the propagation of the pill mill crisis that exists in the State of Florida”
None of the doctors are still employed at the clinic; however, Steven Edson remained the sole owner after severing business ties with former co-owner Bruno Balbi.
The five doctors charged, Rodenberg, Sanchez, Cukierman, Fronstin, and Duong were served an “Order to Show Cause” by the DEA, which requires the registrant to show cause why their registration should not be revoked. Pursuant to CFR Sec. 1301.37, the registrant is required to appear before the DEA Administrator in response to the order within 30 days of receipt.
This investigation is ongoing.
This investigation was conducted by the DEA Miami Tactical Diversion Squad, which consists of the DEA, Broward County Sheriff’s Office, Miami-Dade Police Department (PD), Hollywood PD, Palm Beach Sheriff’s Office, Florida Department of Law Enforcement, City of Sunrise PD, Florida Highway Patrol, Ft. Lauderdale PD, the City of Miami PD and the BSO Deerfield Selective Enforcement Team.
This investigation is being prosecuted by the Attorney General’s Office of Statewide Prosecution.
The charging document is merely an accusation and the defendants are assumed innocent unless and until proven guilty.