South Florida

Two South Florida doctors charged with doling out painkillers at ‘pill mills’

Prescription drugs ─ the changing face of addiction

According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, addiction to prescription opioid painkillers is real.
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According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, addiction to prescription opioid painkillers is real.

A pair of South Florida doctors have been charged with filling out thousands of unlawful painkiller prescriptions at two Hialeah clinics that federal authorities say were “pill mills” that accepted cash and Medicare payments.

At one medical clinic, recruiters brought in patients so they could receive prescriptions for painkillers such as Oxycodone, federal prosecutors said Thursday. Those same recruiters paid the patients’ medical fees, let them keep some of the painkillers and then resold the remainder of the unlawfully dispensed drugs on the black market, prosecutors said.

Dr. Victor H. Espinosa, 57, of Fort Lauderdale, was charged with conspiring to dispense painkillers for no legitimate purpose at East Medical Office in Hialeah, according to a criminal complaint.

Between August 2017 and May 2018, Espinosa prescribed 119,534 Oxycodone tablets, the complaint said. That accounted for 99 percent of all controlled substances he prescribed at East Medical.

Others charged in a related case are East Medical’s co-owners, David Bosch and Tania Sanchez, along with assistants Ledif Acanda Machado and Odalys Abreu.

At the second medical clinic, Dr. Rodolfo Gonzalez-Garcia, 65, of Weston, was charged with a similar unlawful painkiller dispensing scheme. It was carried out during the same two-year period at West Medical Office in Hialeah.

Others named in an indictment are the physician’s wife, Arlene Gonzalez, also of Weston, Sucett Lopez of Hialeah and Annie Suarez-Gonzalez of Illinois, who were clinic employees. Also charged: Fidel Marrero-Casetellanos of Miami, a patient recruiter.

All five defendants were charged with conspiring to defraud the taxpayer-funded Medicare program by either receiving or paying kickbacks for patient prescriptions. Marrero-Casetellanos recruited Medicare patients to the West Medical clinic and paid $250 kickbacks to the other four defendants who worked there in exchange for each prescription of Oxycodone or OxyContin, according to the indictment. The painkillers, distributed through local pharmacies, were billed to the Medicare program.

Both physicians had their first appearances in Miami federal court on Thursday and are awaiting arraignment. Espinosa was granted a $300,000 bond. Gonzalez-Garcia has a pretrial detention hearing on Tuesday.

The cases, investigated by the Justice Department’s Medicare Fraud Strike Force, are being prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorneys Michael Gilfarb and Brian Shack.