Updated at 12:04 p.m. Friday with a statement from a defense attorney.
Forty-nine people were charged Thursday in the Northern District of Texas with participating in a nine-year, $18 million pill mill scheme, the Department of Justice said in a news release.
Of the 49 defendants charged, two are doctors and two are pharmacists. All have been arrested and charged with conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute controlled substances.
According to the DOJ, 61-year-old Dr. Caesar Mark Capistrano and 36-year-old Dr. Tameka Lachelle Noel allegedly wrote prescriptions for hydrocodone, oxycodone, alprazolam, carisoprodol, zolpidem, phentermine, and promethazine with codeine with the knowledge those drugs would hit the streets for illegal use.
"The government's allegations cover a 10-year period. We will leave no stone unturned in the defense of Dr. Capistrano - who is presumed innocent - as we go through voluminous records recently released by the government," said defense attorney Benson Varghese in a written statement. "We look forward to Dr. Capistrano's day in court."
The doctors were assisted by 48-year-old clinic manager Shirley Ann Williams, who allegedly got a network of recruiters to find people from local homeless shelters and the community to pose as patients and get prescriptions for controlled substances from the doctors.
The recruiters paid each "patient" anywhere from $50-$200 in cash to get the prescriptions. The recruiters then got the prescriptions filled at various complicit pharmacies in North Texas and distributed the drugs for resale on the streets, according to the DOJ.
Williams, the DOJ said, does not have a medical license or a DEA registration, but she was the person who many of these "patients" saw at the clinic. Williams would see the "patient," then prescribe the drugs "without a legitimate medical purpose," according to the DOJ.
The doctors and Williams would often include other, non-controlled substances like antibiotics along with the drugs in order to seem more legitimate, the DOJ said.
The pill mill scheme ran for nine years. Capistrano issued prescriptions for the full nine years and issued more than 524,000 doses of hydrocodone, 430,000 doses of carisoprodol, 77,000 doses of alprazolam, and 2.07 million doses of promethazine with codeine, the DOJ said.
Over a seven-year span, Noel issued prescriptions for more than 200,000 doses of hydrocodone, 55,000 doses of carisoprodol, 14,000 doses of alprazolam, and 450,000 doses of promethazine with codeine, according to the DOJ.
The DOJ said the doctors would often prescribe multiple drugs at the same time, and often at the highest dosages possible.
If convicted, each defendant faces up to 20 years in prison.
The DEA Dallas Field Division’s Fort Worth Office, Homeland Security Investigations, the criminal investigations unit of the IRS, the U.S. Marshals, the U.S. Postal Inspection Service, the Parker County Sheriff’s Office, the Fort Worth Police Department and the Arlington Police Department all contributed to Operation Wasted Daze, which discovered the pill mill and arrested the defendants.
“Medical professionals hold the public’s trust to provide what is in the best interests of their patients,” DEA Dallas Field Division Special Agent in Charge Eduardo A. Chávez said in the DOJ's news release. “When this is eroded by supplying diverted prescription drugs to the streets in Fort Worth, DEA Dallas will ensure they are held accountable to the fullest extent of the law.”
Medical professionals charged in the scheme include:
- Caesar Mark Capistrano, medical doctor
- Tameka Lachelle Noel, medical doctor
- Ngozika Tracey Njoku, nurse practitioner
Clinic staff charged in the scheme include:
- Shirley Ann Williams, clinic office manager
- Latonya Ann Tucker, office staff
Recruiters charged in the scheme include:
- Ritchie Dale Milligan, Jr
- Wayne Benard Kincade
- Katie Lorane Parker
- Cynthia Denise Cooks
Pharmacists charged in the scheme include:
- Wilkinson Oloyede Thomas, Calvary Pharmacy
- Christopher Kalejaiye Ajayi, Remcare Pharmacy
- Bartholomew Anny Akubukwe, Beco Pharmacy
- Nedal Helmi Naser, Brandy Pharmacy
- Ethel Oyekunle-Bubu, Ethel’s Pharmacy