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Healthcare Fraud

Feds Convict 46 Defendants in $18 Million Pill Mill Scheme Called “Operation Wasted Daze”

Physicians wrote fraudulent prescriptions for patients they never saw, knowing the drugs would be sold on the street.

Federal prosecutors have convicted 46 defendants of multiple conspiracy counts to dispense illicit drugs in an $18 million pill mill scheme the government named “Operation Wasted Daze.”

The defendants included two doctors, a nurse practitioner, and five pharmacists, along with 41 other co-conspirators who pleaded guilty before the trial. Dr. Caesar Mark Capistrano, arrested in the fall, was charged with multiple counts of conspiracy to dispense hydrocodone and possession to distribute hydrocodone or carisoprodol. He faces up to 100 years in federal prison, at 20 years per count. 

He partnered with pharmacists Ethel Oyekunle-Bubu, Wilkinson Oloyede Thomas, Christopher Kalejaiye Ajayi, recruiter Brian Kincade, and recruit Alphonse Fisher, who were all convicted at trial. They also face 20 years in federal prison for each count of conspiracy. 

The scheme is a familiar one. In these types of cases, physicians, recruiters, and pharmacies often conspire to pay fake patients to come in for some sort of fraudulent visit, where they are prescribed medicine. Physicians get paid by the recruiters for the prescriptions, which are often billed to Medicaid or Medicare. Then, when the fake patients fill the prescriptions, the recruiters sell the drugs on the street. Sometimes in these schemes, gift cards are used to recruit potential fake patients, and sometimes the patients are not homeless but members of the military or other community members. 

In a series of three trials, Capistrano and associate Dr. Tameka Lachelle Noel were convicted of writing prescriptions for numerous drugs knowing they would be sold on the street. Clinic manager Shirley Ann Williams and a network of recruiters paid $50 to $200 to individuals in the community and homeless shelters to pretend to be patients. They were given prescriptions for controlled substances. 

The recruiters would pay the clinic for the prescribed drugs, fill the prescriptions at complicit pharmacies, and then sell them on the street. The pharmacies charged recruiters between $200 and $800 per prescription. Hundreds of medications were filled this way, according to evidence at the trial. 

Many of the patients were never seen by the doctor but instead met with Williams, who had no medical license or DEA registration. Williams would coordinate with the physicians to prescribe the drugs, even though patients did not exhibit symptoms that would necessitate a prescription. In addition, the doctors would prescribe multiple medications simultaneously and at the highest doses available. The physicians would mix in prescriptions for non-controlled substances, such as antibiotics and mineral ice, to make the prescriptions appear legitimate. 

The pill mill scheme stretched on for nine years, with Capistrano prescribing 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. In seven years, Dr. Noel prescribed 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.

“Pill mills funnel potentially deadly opiates onto our streets, wreaking havoc in communities beset by addiction,” said U.S. Attorney Prerak Shah via release. “The doctors, pharmacists, and clinic staff convicted in this case violated not only medical ethics but federal law as well. We are proud to bring them to justice, and we remain committed to fighting the opioid epidemic where it matters most—at the point of entry.”

Below is a list of doctors and nurse practitioners convicted:

  • Caesar Mark Capistrano—Medical doctor, convicted at trial on 1/28/2021 of three counts of conspiracy to dispense a controlled substance and two counts of possession with intent to distribute a controlled substance

  • Tameka Lachelle Noel—Medical doctor, pleaded guilty on 11/16/2020 to conspiracy to dispense a controlled substance and was sentenced to eight years federal prison

  • Ngozika Tracey Njoku—Nurse practitioner, pleaded guilty on 11/20/2020 to conspiracy to dispense a controlled substance

And here is a list of convicted clinic staff:

  • Shirley Ann Williams—Clinic office manager, pleaded guilty on 11/18/2020 to conspiracy to disperse a controlled substance

  • Latonya Ann Tucker—Office staff, pleaded guilty on 11/20/2020 to  conspiracy to distribute a controlled substance and was sentenced to five years federal prison

Recruiters included:

  • Ritchie Dale Milligan, Jr, who pleaded guilty on 11/18/2020 to conspiracy to distribute a controlled substance and was sentenced to eight years federal prison.

  • Wayne Benard Kincade, who pleaded guilty on 11/16/2020 to conspiracy to distribute a controlled substance.

  • Katie Lorane Parker, who pleaded guilty on 11/16/2020 to conspiracy to distribute a controlled substance.

  • Cynthia Denise Cooks, who pleaded guilty on 11/25/2020 to conspiracy to distribute a controlled substance and was sentenced to five years federal prison.

Complicit pharmacists were:

  • Wilkinson Oloyede Thomas of Calvary Pharmacy was convicted at trial on 1/28/2021 of three counts of conspiracy to dispense controlled substances and one count of possession with intent to distribute controlled substances.

  • Christopher Kalejaiye Ajayi of Remcare Pharmacy was convicted at trial on 3/2/2021 of three counts of conspiracy to dispense controlled substances, and two counts of possession with intent to distribute controlled substances

  • Bartholomew Anny Akubukwe of Beco Pharmacy pleaded guilty on 11/18/2020 to conspiracy to dispense a controlled substance and was sentenced to 11 years in federal prison.

  • Nedal Helmi Naser of Brandy Pharmacy pleaded guilty on 3/16/2021 to conspiracy to dispense a controlled substance.

  • Ethel Oyekunle-Bubu of Ethel’s Pharmacy was convicted at trial on 1/28/2021 of three counts of conspiracy to dispense a controlled substance and two counts of possession with intent to distribute controlled substances.

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