U.S. Attorney's Office
Eastern District of Arkansas
(501) 340-2600
September 2, 2015

Local Physician and 18 Others Charged in Federal Prescription Drug Distribution Indictment

LITTLE ROCK—Christopher R. Thyer, United States Attorney for the Eastern District of Arkansas, and Joseph Shepard, Assistant Special Agent in Charge of the Little Rock District Office of the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), announced Wednesday the return of a federal Indictment charging a Little Rock physician and 18 others as part of a continuing DEA national initiative to target illegal pharmaceutical drug activity.

The Indictment, returned by a federal grand jury on Wednesday, charges Dr. Richard Johns, 49, of Little Rock, and 18 others in a conspiracy to distribute oxycodone. The conspiracy operated in Lonoke, White, and Pulaski Counties. Dr. Johns was charged in Lonoke County on May 18, 2015 with similar offenses.

On May 18, 2015, the Lonoke County Sheriff’s Office took Dr. Johns into custody charging him with 187 counts of Fraudulent Practices, a class C state felony. This investigation first began November 2014 when detectives responded to an overdose death of an individual in Cabot. The Sheriff’s Office solicited the assistance of the DEA, and the agencies began a joint investigation into the doctor and the suspected criminal enterprise headed by Dr. Johns. The investigation determined that 187 fraudulent prescriptions had been filled and distributed since July 2014 within the illicit market in Lonoke County alone. The prescriptions totaled approximately 16,830 oxycodone pills with a street value of $505,000.

During the course of the ongoing investigation, DEA determined that Dr. Johns was part of a distribution network spanning other counties in which he would write oxycodone prescriptions in individuals’ names, selling them for $500 each. Co-conspirators would bring names and dates of birth to Dr. Johns with the intent of buying a prescription for oxycodone. Dr. Johns would issue the prescription without examining the individual, and in many cases, without ever having met the individual. Prescriptions were filled at local pharmacies, and the oxycodone tablets sold in the community for $30 each. Several co-conspirators acknowledged purchasing such fraudulent prescriptions from Dr. Johns since 2011.

“As alleged in the indictment, the doctor writing these fraudulent prescriptions is no different than a common, street-level drug dealer on the street, and should be treated as such,” Thyer said. “As a society we have granted certain health care professionals the right to prescribe and use highly addictive drugs to treat their patients. When that right is abused, we will aggressively pursue those health care professionals as the criminals that they are. I am pleased that this doctor and his network have been stopped, and this office will continue to target the doctors, pharmacists, and other health-care providers who illegally allow these dangerous and highly addictive drugs to end up on our streets.”

In January 2014, as part of a national effort, the DEA New Orleans Field Division, which includes the DEA Little Rock office, launched an aggressive campaign that targeted the largest sources of illegally diverted pharmaceuticals in Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, and Alabama. This effort, dubbed Operation Pilluted, involved the extensive investigation of rogue practitioners, pharmacists, and other DEA Registrants, as well as the aggressive pursuit of more traditional criminal organizations involved in the distribution of pharmaceuticals. Under the auspices of Operation Pilluted, concerted efforts were initiated to heighten community awareness concerning the perils of prescription drug diversion and the strategic implementation/strengthening of associated diverted pharmaceutical laws.

In May 2015, DEA, as part of Operation Pilluted, announced the return of two Indictments charging 46 defendants, including physicians, pharmacists, and nurses, with the illicit distribution of pharmaceuticals in the Central Arkansas area. In total, Operation Pilluted in the Eastern District of Arkansas has led to six federal Indictments charging 113 defendants, including five doctors.

“Prescription drug abuse is an extremely serious problem, not just in Arkansas, but nationwide,” Shepard said. “DEA and our law enforcement partners will continue to investigate professionals in the medical field who operate as drug peddlers. Those persons who disregard their ethical and legal obligations while dispensing pharmaceuticals will be forced to bear the consequences of their actions.”

The case against Dr. Johns was investigated by the DEA—Little Rock Diversion Squad, along with the Federal Bureau of Investigation, Arkansas State Police, Central Arkansas Drug Task Force, Lonoke County Sheriff’s Office, White County Sheriff’s Office, and Little Rock Tactical Diversion Squad composed of officers from the Conway Police Department, Beebe Police Department, Little Rock Police Department, Pine Bluff Police Department, Jefferson County Sheriff’s Office, and the Benton Police. Also involved in the investigation were the United States Marshals Service, Little Rock Police Department, and the Saline County Sheriff’s Office.

An indictment contains only allegations. A defendant is presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty.

Defendants, United States v. Richard Duane Johns, et al.:

Conspiracy to Distribute Schedule II controlled substances

  • RICHARD DUANE JOHNS, 49, Little Rock
  • DAVID LARU.S.ROGGINS, 56, Cabot
  • MARISSA DONANN SCROGGINS, 29, Cabot
  • CHRISTOPHER DAVID SCROGGINS, 36, Cabot
  • DONNA MICHELLE CEARNS, 28 Cabot
  • VANESSA E. BYRD, 29, Ward
  • RANDY JAMES BYRD, 28, Ward
  • JAMES JASON WASHAM, 38, Scott
  • JERRI D. WASHAM, 33, Scott
  • CHRISTINE MARIE ZEMAN, 46, Lonoke
  • MEGAN BROOKE MCCONNELL, 25, Judsonia
  • GREGORY CHASE MCCONNELL, 24, Judsonia
  • ARON SCOT COCHRAN, 26, Searcy
  • SCOTTY WAYNE FERREN, JR., 25, Searcy
  • JASON RAY BEAUDRY, 29, Searcy
  • DUSTIN R. BULLOCK, 27, Searcy
  • CHARLES LESTER MASON, 69, Searcy
  • JOSHUA DAVID RINGER, 29, Searcy
  • JAMES VERNON SPIKER, JR., 28, Judsonia

STATUTORY SENTENCES

Conspiracy to Possess with Intent to Distribute Oxycodone, a Schedule II controlled substance, is punishable by not more than 20 years’ incarceration in the Bureau of Prisons with a possible fine of up to $1,000,000, and not less than three years’ supervised release.

Possession with Intent to Distribute and Distribution of Oxycodone, a Schedule II controlled substance, is punishable by not more than 20 years’ incarceration in the Bureau of Prisons with a possible fine of up to $1,000,000, and not less than three years’ supervised release.

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