Jason Cole Votrobek, 27, of Vero Beach, Fla.; Jesse Violante, 32, of Vero Beach, Fla.; Roland Rafael Castellanos, 32, of Cartersville; Tara Atkins, 33, of Cartersville; and James Chapman, 61, of Macon were indicted for their respective roles in operating an alleged "pill mill" pain clinic that served as a front for the illegal distribution of addictive painkillers.
A Wednesday press conference held at the Federal Building in Rome revealed the indictment, which alleges that the clinic, operating as the Atlanta Medical Group at 16 Collins Drive, was actually a drug distribution operation seeing a high number of patients, most from outside the state, illegally distributing "hundreds of thousands of Oxycodone pills."
According to Assistant U.S. Attorney Scott Hulsey, the volume of patients typically seen exceeded levels allowing for a sufficient medical examination. The indictment further details the roles played by each suspect, including Chapman, a licensed practitioner authorized to write prescriptions.
"The difference between a legitimate pain clinic and an illegal 'pill mill' is whether the doctor was prescribing medicine or pain pills in the course of ordinary business or in following the usual or standard medical procedures," Hulsey said. "However, once a doctor begins prescribing outside the ordinary course of legitimate medical practice, then it veers into illegal activity and can be charged like any other drug offense."
The drug in question, allegedly prescribed in "amounts and dosage combinations that exceeded that required for legitimate medical treatment," was Oxycodone, an opiate and Schedule II controlled substance. Atlanta Medical Group operated primarily on a cash-only basis dispensing the pills on-site. The indictment cites that these Oxycodone pills were sold at "substantially marked-up prices."
A Wednesday press release from the U.S. Department of Justice on the arrests showed the investigation found Votrobek, Violante and Castellanos to be financiers and operators of the clinic while Atkins served as the office manager and Chapman as primary doctor. All defendants were allegedly involved in the clinic practices and knowingly sanctioned illegal behavior, including the receipt of bribes for clinic access, medical procedures performed by non-medical personnel and falsified patient drug screens. Further, Atkins is accused of, on at least one account, facilitating the prescription of pain killers to patients, even though she was not a doctor.
Currency found in at least 10 bank accounts and assets allegedly tied to illegal activities were found to be valued at more than $800,000, including more than $500,000 in cash seized from two residences in Florida. Despite having only opened in May 2010, profits from the Atlanta Medical Group were deemed "significant" within the indictment, alleging that much of the proceeds were used to purchase additional Oxycodone.
"The indictment alleges that ultimately there were millions of dollars in play with this clinic being in operation only a little over a year," Hulsey said.
The DOJ press release reports that recent findings have shown a rise in prescription pain pill abuse, leading to more fatal overdoses from pain medication than all illegal drugs combined. The Atlanta Medical Group is accused of regularly prescribing Oxycodone to patients with visible signs of addiction as well as those reselling the drugs.
"The pain pill problem is one that is a department priority," Hulsey said. "The reason is, pain pill abuse is rising."
An investigation begun by the FBI/Northwest Georgia Criminal Enterprise Safe Streets Task Force was expanded in May 2010 with the help of Special Agents of the Drug Enforcement Administration, Georgia Bureau of Investigation, Bartow County Sheriff's Office and the Internal Revenue Service - Criminal Investigation.
"There was a high number of patients and a lot of them were coming from out of state, and that was one of the facts that, in fact, tipped off law enforcement in this case," Hulsey said. "... One of the signs that this is a 'pill mill,' is the fact that there were people from out of state rather than people visiting their own home-state doctors."
Bartow County Sheriff Clark Millsap was quoted in the DOJ press release regarding the joint efforts of local, state and national agencies sending a message to other offenders.
"The Bartow/Cartersville Drug Task Force and all other agencies involved have been working diligently to stop this type of illegal drug activity. We want to send a message that we will not stand for any type of drug dealers in this county. Whether it be prescription drugs, marijuana, methamphetamine, cocaine or any other illegal drug, we will exhaust all our law enforcement resources to stop you," Millsap said.
Members of the public are reminded that the indictment contains only allegations. A defendant is presumed innocent of the charges and it will be the government's burden to prove a defendant's guilt beyond a reasonable doubt at trial.