Two pharmacists sentenced to 19 and 20 years in prison and ordered to pay $5 million in restitution to the State of Georgia to combat the opioid epidemic
November 2, 2017by
Rosemary Ofume and Donatus Iriele have each been ordered to pay $2.5 million in community restitution. The community restitution funds are to be paid to the Georgia state agencies responsible for substance abuse treatment and victims assistance. The defendants, who are husband and wife, formerly owned the Medicine Center Pharmacy in Atlanta, Georgia. They were sentenced on July 20, 2017, to 19 and 20 years in prison, respectively, for illegally dispensing controlled narcotics to customers of the AMARC “pill mill” pain clinic. “The defendants used their pharmacy to supply pills to patients of a known ‘pill mill’ and then laundered millions of dollars to conceal their crimes,” said U.S. Attorney Byung J. “BJay” Pak. “These pharmacists fed opiate addictions among so many as a means to sustain their lifestyles. Now, they will begin to serve lengthy prison sentences and pay back the state of Georgia to account for some of the harm they caused to the community. This money will go to help the individuals whose lives have been scarred by addiction.” Daniel R. Salter, the Special Agent in Charge of the DEA Atlanta Field Division said, “It is a sad commentary when trusted individuals in the medical community hide behind the veil of legitimacy to commit criminal acts. These pharmacists can no longer fill the opiate cravings of pill-seeking addicts with impunity. Owners and operators of pill mills spin a broad web of deception, reeling in casts of thousands who are addicted to pharmaceutical drugs. This investigation was a success because of the spirited level of law enforcement cooperation.” “These convictions have removed a huge tumor from the cancer that illicit drug distribution has become during our lifetime. The hard work invested in this case by all parties, from the U.S. Attorney’s office, to the boots on the ground front-line drug agents, and everyone in-between, proves what dedication, persistence and cooperation can accomplish. It’s proof positive that just because you have a license to practice pharmacy, you aren’t entitled to put illicitly prescribed drugs on the street and contribute to the skyrocketing opioid addiction and overdose death rates. All health care professionals are put on notice to remember: you are to do no harm. And if you intentionally ignore this charge, you are going to be treated the same as a street-corner drug dealer in this war on opioid abuse,” said Dennis M. Troughton Sr., Director, Georgia Drugs & Narcotics Agency. According to U.S. Attorney Pak, the charges and other information presented in court: In May 2009, agents of the DEA, working with agents for the IRS, began investigating the AMARC pain clinic, located on Lakewood Avenue in Atlanta and nearby Medicine Center Pharmacy, after receiving information that the clinic and pharmacy were illegitimately prescribing and dispensing pain pills to drug addicts and drug dealers. The investigation revealed that Godfrey Ilonzo financed and operated at least eight clinics in the metro Atlanta area under the “AMARC” name, including the Lakewood pain clinic and one in Tyrone, Georgia. Bona Ilonzo (Godfrey Ilonzo’s wife) served as the office manager at the Lakewood AMARC pain clinic. At various times, Dr. Nevorn Askari and Dr. William Richardson served as the primary doctors for the AMARC pain clinics. Rosemary Ofume and Donatus Iriele operated the Medicine Center Pharmacy across the street from one of the pain clinics. Both Godfrey and Bona Ilonzo, as well as Drs. Askari and Richardson, pleaded guilty to charges related to their conduct at the clinic. Ofume and Iriele were later convicted at trial of drug trafficking and money laundering charges related to the pharmacy. Ofume and Iriele worked together with the Ilonzos and Drs. Askari and Richardson to facilitate the dispensing of oxycodone pills and other opiates to addicts and distributors. After customers received prescriptions from Askari and Richardson for medically inappropriate and potentially lethal combinations of opiates and other controlled substances, clinic staff told customers to fill their prescriptions across the street at “Rosemary’s pharmacy” (Medicine Center Pharmacy operated by Ofume and Iriele). Many of those customers traveled to the AMARC clinics and Ofume/Iriele’s pharmacy from counties throughout Georgia and from other states (including Alabama and Ohio). Customers waited for hours at the Lakewood AMARC pain clinic and paid cash to receive prescriptions for oxycodone/hydrocodone, Xanax, and Soma (the “holy trinity” for resale on the street) before purchasing the pills at high prices from Ofume and Iriele’s pharmacy. Employees at the AMARC clinics and Ofume and Iriele’s pharmacy received discounts and special treatment, including free office visits and reduced prices for pills dispensed at the pharmacy. Ofume lied to pharmaceutical distributors to procure astronomical quantities of oxycodone and other prescription pain pills that were then dispensed to customers having obvious signs of addiction or drug diversion. Between 2009 and 2012, Medicine Center Pharmacy purchased 1,360,410 opioid pills. Significantly, in 2009, the pharmacy purchased eleven times more oxycodone than the average pharmacy in the state of Georgia. During the course of the conspiracy, Ofume and Iriele generated more than $5.1 million dollars from unlawful prescriptions issued by doctors affiliated with the AMARC clinics (constituting more than 90% of the pharmacy’s revenue). Iriele used pharmacy proceeds to purchase three luxury vehicles for his and Ofume’s personal use. Iriele and Ofume also laundered pharmacy proceeds by purchasing vehicles in the United States for individuals in Nigeria while concealing that those customers were depositing equivalent amounts of local Nigerian currency into Iriele’s personal Nigerian bank account. In 2007, the Georgia Board of Pharmacy had revoked Iriele’s pharmacy license (and temporarily suspended Ofume’s pharmacy license) after finding that Ofume and Iriele had failed to account for more than 600,000 controlled substances pills at their pharmacies and had dispensed controlled substances pursuant to more than 1,400 forged prescriptions. Donatus Iriele, 63, of Atlanta, Georgia, was sentenced on July 20, 2017, by U.S. District Judge Steve C. Jones to 20 years in prison, followed by three years of supervised release. Rosemary Ofume, 59, also of Atlanta, was sentenced by Judge Jones on the same day, to 19 years in prison, followed by three years of supervised release. Ofume and Iriele were convicted on March 24, 2017, after a three-week jury trial on federal drug and money laundering charges in connection with their operation of Medicine Center Pharmacy, in Atlanta. Based on the convictions, Ofume and Iriele were ordered to forfeit to the United States $16,767 in cash seized from the pharmacy, $133,892.74 in funds seized from the pharmacy’s bank account, a 2009 BMW X5, a 2008 Mercedes Benz ML550, and a 2007 BMW X5. The Georgia Board of Pharmacy suspended Ofume’s pharmacy license (and the license of Medicine Center Pharmacy) as a result of the convictions. Judge Jones ordered a community restitution award requiring Ofume and Iriele to pay a total of $5 million under Title 18, United States Code, Section 3663(c), to be distributed to the Georgia Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Disabilities, and the Criminal Justice Coordinating Council for victims’ assistance, in restitution for the public harm caused by Ofume and Iriele’s conduct. Such a restitution order is the first of its kind in the nation against pharmacists, which also recognizes the public harm diverted opiates have caused the citizens of the state of Georgia. This case was investigated by the Drug Enforcement Administration and Internal Revenue Service Criminal Investigation.