FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
October 1, 2004
Doctor and 6 Local Pharmacists
Charged in Conspiracy to Illegally Distribute Narcotics
OCT 01 -- (HOUSTON, TX) United States Attorney Michael Shelby announced today the unsealing of a 127-count indictment charging nine defendants with conspiracy and money laundering arising from the illegal distribution of the prescription drugs, hydrocodone and promethazine with codeine. It is alleged that from October 2002 though October 2003, the indicted individuals distributed 1.4 million tablets of hydrocodone and 2100 gallons of promethazine with codeine, a cough suppressant. The indictment also charges two of the defendants with conspiracy, health care fraud, and money laundering arising from an alleged scheme to defraud Medicare of $30 million. An area physician, six local pharmacists, and two others were arrested, without incident, and made an initial appearance before United States Magistrate Judge Steven Smith on Thursday, September 30, 2004. The defendants are scheduled to be arraigned on October 07, 2004.
The 127-count criminal indictment returned on September 29, 2004, and unsealed today, charges Callie Hall Herpin, M.D., 33, Etta Mae Williams, 46, Karen B. Williams, 39, Otukayode Adeleke Otufale, 44, Isaac Simeon Achobe, 50, Darryl Joseph Armstrong, 40, Paul Allen Henry, 38, Chicha Kazembe Combs, 29, and Andre` Dion Brown, 37, with conspiracy to illegally distribute prescription narcotics for non-medical purposes.
"The magnitude of the criminal conduct allegedly committed by these health care professionals strikes at the heart of the trust we place in them to 'do no harm'," said United States Attorney Michael Shelby. "We intend to use every tool available to hold accountable those that abuse their position for financial gain."
The indictment alleges that Dr. Herpin, with the assistance of Etta and Karen Williams, routinely sold prescriptions for hydrocodone and promethazine with codeine for cash to individuals who did not have a medical need for the drugs. Further, it is alleged that Dr. Herpin would write prescriptions for individuals who were never present in the doctor's office. These prescriptions were written in the names of individuals taken from the phonebook by Etta and Karen Williams. It is alleged that Etta and Karen Williams created lists using the names from the phonebook, along with addresses, fictitious telephone numbers and dates of birth. The lists were used by Dr. Herpin to write the prescriptions and ultimately by the pharmacists to fill the illegal prescriptions. It is further alleged that Etta Williams, who is not a doctor, would also "prescribe" hydrocodone and promethazine with codeine for non-existent patients by signing Dr. Herpin's name. Certain unindicted individuals would purchase a list of as many as 25 prescriptions from Herpin's office. The individual would be directed to one of the indicted pharmacists who would be willing to fill the multiple prescriptions for cash.
"Identifying violators that divert prescription drugs is a top priority for the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) and today's actions demonstrate DEA and law enforcement's steadfast commmitment to preventing the illegal distribution of controlled substances in our community," said DEA Special Agent in Charge James D. Craig.
"Prescription drug fraud cannot, and under my watch, will not go unpunished," said Department of Health and Human Resources Office of Inspector General's Special Agent In Charge Timothy Menke. "Such crimes result in personal tragedy for the victims -- and perpetrators can face very long jail terms and multi-million dollar penalties."
Special Agent in Charge Jacqueline Collins of the Houston IRS-CI Field Office stated, "IRS-CI is pleased to work in cooperation with the other law enforcement agencies during this investigation. IRS-CI has the financial investigators and expertise that is critical to locating the money and prosecuting the offenders."
Otukayode Adeleke Otufale is the owner of Med Stop Pharmacy located at 6440 Hillcroft. Isaac Simeon Achobe is the owner of American Choice Pharmacy located at 8449 W. Bellfort. Darryl Joseph Armstrong and Paul Allen Henry are co-owners of Stella Link Pharmacy located at 9325 Stella Link. Chicha Kazembe Combs and Andre` Dion Brown are co-owners of Mason Road Pharmacy located at 829 S. Mason Road, Katy, Texas.
It is alleged that each of these pharmacists used the phony identifying information from the lists to create patient profiles for the fictitious individuals to fulfill record-keeping obligations. Each of the indicted pharmacists filled hundreds of illegal prescriptions from Dr. Herpin. Otufale is accused of illegally dispensing over 658,000 hydrocodone pills and more than 976 gallons of promethazine with codeine. Achobe is accused of illegally dispensing over 16,000 hydrocodone pills and more than 33 gallons of promethazine with codeine. Armstrong and Henry are accused of illegally dispensing over 615,000 hydrocodone pills and more than 844 gallons of promethazine with codeine. Combs and Brown are accused of illegally dispensing over 183,000 hydrocodone pills and more than 254 gallons of promethazine with codeine.
The indictment also charges Dr. Herpin and her office manager, Etta Williams, with conspiracy to defraud the Medicare program of $30 million and health care fraud.
The indictment alleges that Herpin and Williams would sign the necessary paperwork authorizing motorized wheelchairs for Medicare beneficiaries for a $200 fee. The required paperwork was signed regardless of the beneficiaries' need for a motorized wheelchair. Most of the beneficiaries clearly did not qualify for a motorized wheelchair. Oftentimes, the beneficiary was not even present in the doctor's office. A marketer would bring only the necessary paperwork for Dr. Herpin to sign. It is alleged that patient files were then created to make it appear as if the patient had been seen by Dr. Herpin.
The indictment also seeks to forfeit approximately $12.9 million from Dr. Herpin and Etta Williams as proceeds of the fraudulent Medicare scheme and approximately $3.1 million from Herpin, Etta Williams, Karen Williams, Otufale, Achobe, Armstrong, Henry, Combs, and Brown as proceeds of the illegal drug distribution nerwork.
Upon conviction, each of the health care fraud counts (19 counts) carries a maximum penalty of 10 years in a federal prison and a $250,000 fine. The health care conspiracy and the drug conspiracy each carry a penalty of 5 years imprisonment and a $250,000 fine. The drug distribution counts(8) carry either a 1 or 5 year maximum penalty and as much as a $250,000 fine. The money laundering counts (98 counts) carry either a 10 or 20 year maximum penalty and as much as a $500,000 fine. Parole has been abolished in the federal prison system.
The criminal charges are the result of a joint investigation conducted by agents of the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), the Houston Police Department, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Office of Inspector General (HHS/OIG), the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), and the Internal Revenue Service Criminal Investigation (IRS/CI). This case will be prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorney Al Balboni.
An indictment is a formal accusation of criminal conduct, not evidence. A defendant is presumed innocent unless and until convicted through due process of law.