South Florida ‘pill mill’ op­er­a­tor to serve 35 years

Sun Sentinel Broward Edition - - FRONT PAGE - By Marc Freeman Staff writer

The op­er­a­tor of a South Florida pain clinic com­pany ben­e­fited as mil­lions of oxy­codone pills w ere pre­scribed and sold to cus­tomers who trav­eled from Ohio, Ken­tucky and other states, court records show.

Pros­e­cu­tors say th­ese “pill mills” run by Richard McMil­lan took in about $10 mil­lion in just over one year be­fore raids closed the il­le­gal en­ter­prise in 2011.

So when it­was time Mon­day to pun­ish McMil­lan, 44, on re­cent rack­e­teer­ing and drug traf­fick­ing con­vic­tions, Cir­cuit Judge Ch­eryl Caracuzzo cited his greed and “how easy it was made by your com­pany to get those highly ad­dic­tive drugs.”

Af­ter lis­ten­ing to tear­ful re­marks from McMil­lan’s friends about his un­selfish na­ture, and read­ing let­ters ex­press­ing love from his two chil­dren, the judge im­posed a 35-year prison sen­tence along with an or­der to pay $600,000 in fines.

Caracuzzo agreed to a re­quest to rec­om­mend McMil­lan be placed in one of the state’s faith- and char­ac­ter-based pris­ons, Wakulla Cor­rec­tional In­sti­tu­tion, south of Tallahassee.

That fa­cil­ity says it fea­tures pro­grams for in­mates “com­mit­ted to in­ner trans­for­ma­tion” that leads to “ma­ture and re­spon­si­ble liv­ing.”

McMil­lan told the judge he reads the Bi­ble ev­ery day and “lives formy kids” ages15 and 22. He said, “No mat­ter where I’ll go, I’ll keep help­ing peo­ple.”

De­fense at­tor­neys Marc Nurik and Guy Fron­stin, who had re­quested the manda­tory min­i­mum prison term of 25 years, said the sen­tence and guilty ver­dict on 11 felonies willbe ap­pealed, for still un­spec­i­fied rea­sons.

The at­tor­neys high­lighted the fact that McMil­lan’s fate was con­sid­er­ably worse than other clinic own­ers with con­vic­tions for giv­ing out pre­scrip­tions with­out real med­i­cal rea­sons.

They specif­i­cally men­tioned fed­eral sen­tences of about 15 years for Jeff Ge­orge and his twin brother, Chris, who were the king­pins of a $40 mil­lion South Florida pain pill em­pire from2008 to 2010.

Be­fore his two-week trial this month, McMil­lan de­clined to­take a plea of­fer of 10 years in prison. But af­ter nine hours of de­lib­er­a­tions the ju­rors re­jected his de­fense that he led a le­git­i­mate pain clinic network with co-de­fen­dant Pasquale Ger­va­sio.

As­sis­tant State At­tor­ney Chris Hu­dock on Mon­day re­quested a 50-year sen­tence and $5.2 mil­lion in fines, which he called “a mere frac­tion” of the To­tal Med­i­cal Ex­press com­pany’s rev­enue from push­ing oxy­codone pills. There were clin­ics in Boca Ra­ton, Mar­gate, Palm Springs and Boyn­ton Beach.

“The fact is that he di­rected the setup, the or­ga­ni­za­tion, the sale, and man­age­ment of th­ese clin­ics, while plac­ing the poor and the pow­er­less at sub­stan­tial risk,” the pros­e­cu­tor said. “And for that rea­son, your honor, we be­lieve it’s ab­so­lutely es­sen­tial that you send a mes­sage to the de­fen­dant that his be­hav­ior is com­pletely un­ac­cept­able.”

But Nurik said a half­cen­tury be­hind bars would be the same as sen­tenc­ing McMil­lan to die in prison.

“Cer­tainly a 25-year sen­tence serves the pur­pose of pun­ish­ing Mr. McMil­lan sub­stan­tially,” Nurik said. “It cer­tainly sends all of the mes­sages that the state wishes to have sent out into the gen­eral pub­lic about the se­ri­ous­ness of the crime.”

Judge Caracuzzo said her over­rid­ing con­cern was for the vic­tims.

“I’m not do­ing this to send a mes­sage to you, Mr. McMil­lan,” the judge said. “I think that you get the mes­sage. Why I’m do­ing this is the wrong — what has been done to so­ci­ety— and to help peo­ple when look­ing for­ward if they want a busi­ness ven­ture to un­der­stand there’s con­se­quences to choices thatwe make.”

Fed­eral Drug En­force­ment Ad­min­is­tra­tion of­fi­cials cal­cu­lated the clin­ics, in­clud­ing lo­ca­tions near Or­lando and Jack­sonville, sold more than 2 mil­lion oxy­codone pills to cus­tomers be­fore the crack­down.

Cus­tomers usu­ally paid $200 or $300 in cash or with credit pay­ments to see doc­tors on staff. Oxy­codone pills, sold for $5 or $6 each, were dis­pensed from an in-house phar­macy, pros­e­cu­tors said.

Faced with what they called an epi­demic of pill mills, Florida leg­is­la­tors years ago passed laws re­quir­ing stricter en­force­ment of pain clin­ics and a statewide drug-mon­i­tor­ing data­base.

Oneof the key wit­nesses at McMil­lan’s trial was his ex-part­ner, Ger­va­sio, 40, who has pleaded guilty to one fed­eral count of money laun­der­ing con­spir­acy and four state felonies, in­clud­ing rack­e­teer­ing.

Ger­va­sio, now liv­ing in New Jersey, has said he hopes his max­i­mum 10-year sen­tence will be cut in half be­cause of his tes­ti­mony that the clinic busi­ness, once called Palm Beach Pain & Re­ju­ve­na­tion, was a front to un­load as many pain pills as pos­si­ble.

“We didn’t want to turn down the rev­enue,” he said of tac­tics call­ing for cus­tomers to see doc­tors for just five min­utes.

McMil­lan’s at­tor­neys called Ger­va­sio a liar try­ing to avoid a lengthy prison sen­tence.

McMil­lan tes­ti­fied that he re­lied on the 17 doc­tors to do the right thing. A for­mer debt con­sol­ida­tor, mort­gage agent and limou­sine busi­ness owner, McMil­lan also told the ju­rors all in­come from the pain clin­ics was prop­erly re­ported on tax re­turns.

The de­fense chal­lenged the al­le­ga­tions that pa­tients of the clin­ics were given pills no ques­tions asked. Nurik and Fron­stin say the clinic files show that 1,274 pa­tients, out of a to­tal of 11,259, were dis­charged with­out be­ing treated.

But pros­e­cu­tor Hu­dock pointed out Mon­day that still means most cus­tomers got the pills.

Friends and loved ones of McMil­lan tes­ti­fied about his re­solve for as­sist­ing the homeless and oth­ers in need, and his re­solve to re­main sober for 25 years af­ter bat­tling an ad­dic­tion.

“I have watched my dad help count­less peo­ple,” wrote his son, Ian War­ren, 22, in a let­ter. He­was in the court­room but too up­set to speak.

Todd Lan­gen­mayr, a long­time friend, broke down cry­ing about his pal he called “Richie.”

“I’ve never been this sad inmy life,” he said.

MARC FREEMAN/STAFF

Richard McMil­lan told Cir­cuit Judge Ch­eryl Caracuzzo he reads the Bi­ble ev­ery day and “lives for my kids.”

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