Fourth Circuit Upholds Former Tabor City Doctor’s Conviction for Operating a Pill Mill
NEW BERN, N.C. – A three-judge panel from the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals issued a unanimous, published opinion affirming former physician Jong Whan Kim’s conviction and sentence for operating a pill mill in Tabor City. The Fourth Circuit’s decision was the first published opinion by the Court upholding a physician’s conviction for unlawful prescribing of opioids and other controlled substances since the Supreme Court decided Ruan v. United States, 142 S. Ct. 2370 (2022), which made it more difficult for the government to convict physicians for unlawful prescribing.
“Kim abused his trust and authority as a physician by writing illegitimate prescriptions for opioids and other controlled substances, and in doing so, placed his patients and children at a local elementary school at risk,” said U.S. Attorney Michael Easley. “The Fourth Circuit’s ruling reaffirms that doctors may not abuse their authority to write prescriptions for controlled substances by knowingly issuing prescriptions outside the scope of legitimate medical practice. Our commitment to prosecuting physicians and other prescribers who operate pill mills in Eastern North Carolina remains steadfast.”
On December 8, 2021, Kim, 76, pled guilty to conspiring with his office assistant, Tammy Thompson, to unlawfully dispense and distribute oxycodone, hydrocodone, methadone, and marijuana, in violation of 21 U.S.C. § 846; to multiple counts of unlawful dispensing and distribution of oxycodone, in violation of 21 U.S.C. § 841; and to distribution of marijuana and aiding and abetting, in violation of 21 U.S.C. § 841(a)(1) & 18 U.S.C. § 2. The district court sentenced Kim to 78 months in prison.
Kim’s misconduct dates to March 2017, when he was forced to resign from his medical practice due to concerns over his opioid prescribing practices. Soon thereafter, Kim opened a clinic in Tabor City. Over the next year, Kim unlawfully prescribed opioids and other controlled substances to “patients” who paid $200 in cash at each appointment. The investigation revealed that Kim often failed to comply with basic standards of legitimate medical practice. He wrote controlled substance prescriptions to virtually every patient he saw, often in the face of evidence of patient misuse and diversion. A confidential informant (“CI”) obtained opioid prescriptions from Kim on twelve occasions. On one occasion, he obtained marijuana from Kim’s office manager at the same time he obtained a prescription from Kim, and paid Kim for the marijuana. On another occasion, Kim wrote the CI a prescription after the CI asked for a higher dosage so he could sell more pills on the street. On a third occasion, the office manager told the CI, in Kim’s presence, that Kim was willing to trade work for prescriptions. In total, Kim dispensed more than two million doses of addictive prescription medications.
Kim’s clinic was located just steps from Tabor City Elementary School. Patients seeking controlled substances often loitered near the school, which created safety concerns. As the Fourth Circuit noted, the school was forced to cancel recess due to activity at Kim’s clinic, and the school was locked down more than once.
In affirming Kim’s conviction and sentence, the Fourth Circuit wrote that a “mountain of circumstantial evidence le[ft] little doubt” that Kim subjectively intended to prescribe opioids and other controlled substances outside the bounds of legitimate medical practice.
Michael Easley, U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of North Carolina announced the Fourth Circuit’s decision. The Drug Enforcement Administration’s Charlotte Tactical Diversion Squad, Columbus County Sheriff’s Office, and the North Carolina State Bureau of Investigation, DECU investigated the case. Assistant U.S. Attorneys Nick Miller, Bryan Stephany and Tim Severo prosecuted the case. Assistant U.S. Attorneys David Bragdon and Andrew Kasper represented the United States before the Fourth Circuit.
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, www.CampusDrugPrevention.gov, and www.dea.gov . Also follow DEA Atlanta via Twitter at @DEAATLANTADiv