Jury Convicts Four in Pill Mill Operation Run by Plano Anesthesiologist
DALLAS—Following a nine-day jury trial before Chief U.S. District Judge Jorge A. Solis, a federal jury has convicted a physician and three co-conspirators on felony offenses stemming from their operation of a pill mill and drug distribution conspiracy they ran in Dallas from January 2012 to early December 2013. The announcement was made this morning by U.S. Attorney John Parker of the Northern District of Texas.
Licensed anesthesiologist Theodore E. Okechuku, 59, of Plano, Texas; Emmanuel C. Iwuoha, 52, of Allen, Texas; Elechi N. Oti, 50, of Augusta, Georgia; and Kelvin L. Rutledge, 43, of Dallas; were each convicted late Friday on one count of conspiracy to unlawfully distribute a controlled substance. Okechuku was convicted of using, carrying and brandishing a firearm in relation to a drug trafficking crime. Okechuku was also convicted on conspiracy to use, carry, and brandish a firearm during and in relation to a drug trafficking crime.
Three co-conspirators, all from Dallas, pleaded guilty before trial. Ignatius O. Ezenagu, 57; David L. Reed, 44; and Jerry K. Reed, 45; each pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to unlawfully distribute a controlled substance. Ezenagu also pleaded guilty conspiracy to brandish a firearm in relation to a drug trafficking crime.
The drug trafficking conspiracy count carries a maximum statutory penalty of 10 years in federal prison and a $250,000 fine. The firearm conspiracy count carries a maximum statutory penalty of 20 years in federal prison and a $250,000 fine, and each substantive firearm offense carries a maximum statutory penalty of life in federal prison and a $250,000 fine. Sentencing is set for January 26, 2016.
The government presented evidence at trial that Okechuku owned and operated, with the assistance of coconspirator Ezenagu, Medical Rehabilitation Clinic (MRC). MRC was initially located at 9304 Forest Lane in Dallas, and then later, the defendants moved MRC to 9205 Skillman Street in Dallas.
MRC operated as a “pill mill,” in that it functioned as a place to unlawfully obtain controlled substances, such as hydrocodone, and not as a medical facility. Okechuku and business manager Ezenagu charged cash only for office visits in exchange for unlawful hydrocodone prescriptions. The coconspirator drug dealers, including David Reed and his brother Jerry Reed, along with Rutledge, recruited “patients,” often from homeless shelters, and drove them in groups to MRC. On a daily basis, these dealers brought multiple patients at a time to MRC. They would escort the patients into the clinic and coordinate their office visits with Ezenagu.
Often, dealers filled out patient information for the recruits they brought to the clinic. Dealers paid cash for the office visits of their patients, and handed the money to their patients before they entered the clinic, gave it to them in MRC’s waiting room, or paid the employees directly. MRC had a caged cash room where people would pay for the office visit with money provided by the dealers, by handing the money through an opening in the bars to a clinic employee. Large amounts of cash, often more than $5,000, passed through the clinic’s drug trafficking business on a daily basis.
Okechuku and Ezenagu conspired to employ armed security guards to protect the business, its employees, and the dealers. These armed security guards displayed and brandished various firearms on their waists for all to see in order to deter violence by the “patients” and to protect the illicit drug money from robbery.
Okechuku rarely saw patients, but delegated that task to licensed physician assistant and coconspirator Oti or to Emmanuel Iwuoha, who held no medical or nursing license in Texas, but acted as a doctor, using Okechuku’s signature and DEA prescription authority. In fact, at MRC, Okechuku, Oti, and Iwuoha were referred to as “Doctor,” regardless of medical license.
Oti, Iwuoha, and at times, Okechuku, would do little to no physical examination and prescribe controlled substances, including hydrocodone, a Schedule III controlled substance at the time. Patient visits were short and they would normally leave with a 30-day prescription (120 pills) or more of hydrocodone, along with other prescriptions. Okechuku, Oti, and Iwuoha diagnosed the majority of the patients with back pain, regardless of their true condition. Hydrocodone was prescribed regardless of a patient’s need, or lack thereof.
Once the patients received the prescriptions at MRC, the coconspirator dealers would drive the groups of patients to various pharmacies to get the prescriptions filled. The dealers would also furnish the money to pay for the narcotics. Sometimes, the dealers did not need the patients to pick up the prescriptions as some pharmacies gave the hydrocodone directly to the dealers. After the prescriptions were filled, the patients gave the pills to the dealers, who then sold the pills on the street for a profit.
The FBI, Dallas Police Department and Mesquite Police Department investigated. Assistant U.S. Attorneys Kate Pfeifle and Russ Fusco, and Deputy Criminal Chief Assistant U.S. Attorney Gary Tromblay prosecuted.