Montgomery, Ala -- Three former employees of an Atlanta Highway medical practice have pled guilty to charges in the "pill mill" case. A physician, nurse practitioner and nurse have all recently come forward.
This case has been called a "pill mill" by investigators because of the employees allegedly prescribing unnecessary controlled substances to patients and billing insurance companies for more money than needed. With these guilty pleas, there are now eight convictions in this case.
The Department of Justice has released the following statement in regard to the case:
"During the past few weeks, three more health care providers have pleaded guilty in the ongoing “pill mill” prosecution arising out of a now-closed Montgomery medical office, announced United States Attorney Louis V. Franklin, Sr. That medical practice was known as “Family Practice” and was located at 4143 Atlanta Highway in Montgomery. In November of last year, the practice’s owner, Dr. Gilberto Sanchez, pleaded guilty to drug distribution, health care fraud, and money laundering charges. The details of each new guilty plea are as follows.
On Friday May 11, 2018, Dr. Julio Delgado, 56, of Homewood, Alabama, pleaded guilty to aiding and abetting the fraudulent acquisition of controlled substances. According to court documents, Dr. Delgado worked for Sanchez at Family Practice during 2015 and 2016. During that time, Dr. Delgado saw some of Dr. Sanchez’s patients when Dr. Sanchez was too busy. In open court on May 11, Dr. Delgado admitted to writing a prescription for someone who was never his patient and without ever examining the person.
On Monday, April 23, 2018, Elizabeth Cronier, 70, of Montgomery, Alabama, also pleaded guilty to aiding and abetting the fraudulent acquisition of controlled substances. Court documents show that Cronier was a certified registered nurse practitioner and that she worked for Sanchez at Family Practice from 2016 to 2017. When she pleaded guilty, Cronier admitted to aiding and abetting a patient in obtaining a fraudulent prescription for buprenorphine.
On Monday, April 30, 2018, Stephanie Michelle Ott, 42, of Fairhope, Alabama pleaded guilty to conspiring to make false statements related to health care matters. The charging document states that Ott, a registered nurse, worked for Sanchez during 2015 and 2016, serving as a practice management consultant. Through her work, Ott helped to implement a new medical billing system for the practice. Ott did so knowing that the system she was implementing would cause the practice to report medical services provided by nurse practitioners as though physicians had provided the services. By doing so, the practice collected 15 percent more for each service than it would have had it accurately reported the qualifications of the health care providers.
Each defendant will be scheduled for a sentencing hearing over the next several months. At sentencing, Delgado and Cronier will face maximum sentences of four years in prison, as well as substantial monetary penalties. Ott will face a maximum sentence of five years in prison, along with the monetary penalties.
These guilty pleas now make eight defendants who have pleaded guilty to offenses arising out of the operation of this pill mill. The five defendants who pleaded guilty previously are: (1) Dr. Sanchez, as noted above; (2) Dr. Sanchez’s former partner, Dr. Shepherd A. Odom, who pleaded guilty to drug distribution and money laundering charges; (3) nurse practitioner Steven Cox, who pleaded guilty to drug distribution and health care fraud charges; (4) Misty Fannin, the practice’s former office manager, who pleaded guilty to money laundering; and (5) Farley Pugh, another former office manager, who pleaded guilty to conspiring to make false statements related to health care matters.
This case was investigated by the Drug Enforcement Administration’s Tactical Diversion Squad, the Internal Revenue Service’s Criminal Investigation Division, and the Department of Health and Human Services – Office of Inspector General. The Montgomery County Sheriff’s Office, the Alabama Board of Medical Examiners, the Montgomery Police Department, and the Opelika Police Department all assisted in the investigation. Assistant United States Attorneys Jonathan S. Ross and R. Rand Neeley are prosecuting the case."