opioid tablets
 
 
  Attorney General William P. Barr and Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Alex M. Azar III, together with multiple law enforcement partners, on April 17 announced enforcement actions involving 60 charged defendants across 11 federal districts, including 31 doctors, 7 pharmacists, 8 nurse practitioners, and 7 other licensed medical professionals, for their alleged participation in the illegal prescribing and distributing of opioids and other dangerous narcotics and for health care fraud schemes. 
 
In addition, HHS announced on April 17, that since June 2018, it has excluded over 2,000 individuals from participation in Medicare, Medicaid, and all other Federal health care programs, which includes more than 650 providers excluded for conduct related to opioid diversion and abuse.  Since July 2017, DEA has issued 31 immediate suspension orders, 129 orders to show cause, and received 1386 surrenders for cause nationwide for violations of the Controlled Substances Act.
 
“The opioid epidemic is the deadliest drug crisis in American history, and Appalachia has suffered the consequences more than perhaps any other region,” Attorney General William P. Barr said. “But the Department of Justice is doing its part to help end this crisis. One of the Department's most promising new initiatives is the Criminal Division's Appalachian Regional Prescription Opioid Strike Force, which began its work in December. Just four months later, this team of federal agents and 12 prosecutors has charged 60 defendants for alleged crimes related to millions of prescriptions. I am grateful to the Criminal Division, their U.S. Attorney partners, and to the members of the strike force for this outstanding work that holds the promise of saving many lives in Appalachian communities.”
 
In the Eastern District of Tennessee, a total of eight individuals, including five doctors, a nurse practitioner, a physician’s assistant, and an office manager were charged in four cases.  Four doctors, a nurse practitioner and a physician’s assistant were charged with the unlawful distribution of opioids.  Two doctors were charged with health care fraud violations.  Three of these cases relate to alleged pill mill operations in the Eastern District of Tennessee.
 
Included in the charges announced today are the following indictments, which are on file with the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Tennessee:
 
On April 2, 2019, a federal grand jury returned an indictment against Dr. Charles Brooks, 61, of Maryville, Tennessee, charging him with one count of conspiracy to distribute Schedule III, IV and V drugs as well as one count of healthcare fraud for aiding and abetting a false statement related to health care matters. 
This case was investigated by the FBI and HHS-OIG.  Assistant U.S. Attorney Anne-Marie Svolto will represent the United States in court proceedings.
 
On April 16, 2019, a federal grand jury returned an indictment against Dr. Stephen Mynatt, 64, of Knoxville Tennessee, and Dr. David Newman, 58, of Maryville, Tennessee, charging them with conspiracy to distribute Schedule II controlled drugs.  Mynatt was also charged with two counts of distribution of Schedule II drugs.  Both Mynatt and Newman were affiliated with Tennessee Valley Pain Specialists.
 
This case was investigated by the FBI, HHS-OIG, DEA, and TBI.  Assistant U.S. Attorney Anne-Marie Svolto, along with DOJ Trial Attorneys Drew Bradylyons and Louis Manzo, will represent the United States in court proceedings.
 
On April 16, 2019, a federal grand jury returned an indictment against Dr. Henry Babenco, 58, of Paducah, Kentucky; Sharon Naylor, 53, of Jacksboro, Tennessee; Alicia Taylor, 29, of Oneida, Tennessee; and Gregory Madron, 54, of Jacksboro, Tennessee, charging all of them with conspiracy to distribute Schedule II controlled drugs.  Naylor and Babenco were also charged with money laundering.  Babenco, Naylor, Taylor, and Madron were all associated with LaFollette Wellness Center.
 
This case was investigated by the DEA and IRS-Criminal Investigations.  Assistant U.S. Attorney Anne-Marie Svolto, along with DOJ Trial Attorney Scott Armstrong, will represent the United States in court proceedings.
 
On April 16, 2019, a federal grand jury indicted Dr. Harrison Yang, 75, of Manchester, Tennessee, with healthcare fraud violations.
 
This case was investigated by the FBI, HHS-OIG, DEA, and TBI.  Assistant U.S. Attorney Anne-Marie Svolto, along with DOJ Trial Attorneys Drew Bradylyons and Louis Manzo, will represent the United States in court proceedings.
 
“Unfortunately, the Appalachian Region, which includes the Eastern District of Tennessee, is experiencing a surge in drug abuse and overdose related deaths,” said U.S. Attorney J. Douglas Overbey.  “Today is an example of how our office is working with our law enforcement partners in the Appalachian Regional Prescription Opioid Strike Force to identify and prosecute dishonest medical professionals and others engaged in health care fraud schemes involving illegal prescription, distribution, possession, and use of opioids.”
 
Troy Sowers, Special Agent in Charge, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Knoxville Division said, "Today's arrests clearly and tragically illustrate these so-called medical professionals were not legitimately assisting their patients - they were contributing to the opioid crisis epidemic that has destroyed families and taken so many lives.  Not only were they engaging in criminal behavior, they were profiting from the addiction and pain of unsuspecting victims.  Working alongside our partners, HHS, DEA, TBI, THP, and many other state and local agencies, we will continue to vigorously pursue anyone involved in trafficking opioids in this country while protecting the public's health and welfare.”
 
“The Drug Enforcement Administration and our law enforcement partners remain committed to targeting unscrupulous medical practitioners who choose profits over patients,” said D. Christopher Evans, Special Agent in Charge of DEA’s Louisville Field Division.  “We will never stop fighting for those who have been rendered helpless by America’s on-going opioid crisis.”
 
“Opioid fraud schemes have hit the Appalachian region particularly hard, resulting in staggering numbers of addiction, overdoses and deaths of individuals to include Medicare and Medicaid beneficiaries,” said Special Agent in Charge Derrick J. Jackson of the Department of Health and Human Services Office of Inspector General.  “Working hand-in-hand with our law enforcement partners, our agents will continue to address this devastating epidemic by thoroughly investigating corrupt providers who contribute to the ongoing opioid crisis and threaten the health and well-being of patients, as alleged in these cases.”
 
“The health and well-being of Tennesseans is of the utmost of importance to the TBI and our law enforcement partners. It’s through efforts like this that we are able to further work toward attacking the opioid crisis and the effects it has on our residents,”  said David Rausch, Director, Tennessee Bureau of Investigation.
 
In addition to the cases announced today, Attorney General Barr and U.S. Attorney Thomas T. Cullen announced today that the ARPO Strike Force will expand into the Western District of Virginia, making it the tenth ARPO Strike Force district.  ARPO is a joint law enforcement effort that brings together the resources and expertise of the Health Care Fraud Unit in the Criminal Division’s Fraud Section (HCF Unit), the U.S. Attorney’s Offices for ten federal districts in six states, as well as law enforcement partners at the FBI, HHS Office of the Inspector General (HHS-OIG) and U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA).  In addition, the operation includes the participation of the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation and multiple State Medicaid Fraud Control Units.  The mission of the ARPO Strike Force is to identify and investigate health care fraud schemes in the Appalachian region and surrounding areas, and to effectively and efficiently prosecute medical professionals and others involved in the illegal prescription and distribution of opioids. 
 
The charges announced today involve individuals contributing to the opioid epidemic, with a particular focus on medical professionals involved in the unlawful distribution of opioids and other prescription narcotics, a priority for the Department.  According to the CDC, approximately 115 Americans die every day of an opioid-related overdose.  
 
The ARPO Strike Force is made up of prosecutors and data analysts with the HCF Unit, prosecutors with the ten U.S. Attorney’s Offices in the region, including the newly added Western District of Virginia, and special agents with the FBI, HHS-OIG and DEA.  The ARPO Strike Force operates out of two hubs based in the Cincinnati, Ohio/Northern Kentucky and Nashville, Tennessee, areas, supporting the ten districts that make up the ARPO Strike Force region.  In addition, the APRO Strike Force works closely with other state and federal law enforcement agencies, including the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation, State Medicaid Fraud Control Units.
 
The case against Babenco, Naylor, Taylor, and Madron was also a result of the Department of Justice’s Organized Crime and Drug Enforcement Task Force (OCDETF) program, the centerpiece of the Department of Justice’s drug supply reduction strategy. OCDETF was established in 1982 to conduct comprehensive, multi-level attacks on major drug trafficking and money laundering organizations. Today, OCDETF combines the resources and expertise of its member federal agencies in cooperation with state and local law enforcement. The principal mission of the OCDETF program is to identify, disrupt, and dismantle the most serious drug trafficking and money laundering organizations and those primarily responsible for the nation’s drug supply.
 
For any patients impacted by the law enforcement operations, DOJ, DEA, HHS-OIG, HHS’ Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, CDC’s Opioid Rapid Response Team and all five State Departments of Health are deploying federal and state-level strategies to address patient harm and insure continuity of care.  Additional information regarding available treatment programs and where patients can turn for assistance is available in Tennessee as follows:
 
  • For a referral to addiction treatment services, call the Tennessee REDLINE: 800-889-9789.
  • In a mental health crisis, call the Statewide Crisis Line: 855-CRISIS-1 (855-274-7471).
  • For help accessing substance abuse or mental health services call the Tennessee Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services Helpline: 800-560-5767 or 615-532-6700. This line is staffed Monday-Friday, 8 a.m. - 4:30 p.m. CT.
 
The Fraud Section leads the Medicare Fraud Strike Force, which is part of a joint initiative between the Department of Justice and HHS to focus their efforts to prevent and deter fraud and enforce current anti-fraud laws around the country. Since its inception in March 2007, the Medicare Fraud Strike Force, which maintains 14 strike forces operating in 23 districts, has charged nearly 4,000 defendants who have collectively billed the Medicare program for more than $14 billion.  The Medicare Fraud Strike Force, including the ARPO Strike Force, has charged more than 200 individuals with opioid-related crimes.
 
If you, a family member, friend or loved one believe you may be a victim in any of these cases or in connection with any charged defendant, please visit the following website for additional information: https://www.justice.gov/criminal-vns/case/ARPO