Exclusive: Operation “Pill Street Blues”
South Florida Crime
NORTHEAST MIAMI-DADE (CBSMiami) – The Drug Enforcement Administration called it Operation Pill Street Blues.
And by the end of Wednesday 14 people –7 doctors and 7 pain clinic owners — faced a slew of charges.
Only CBS 4′s cameras were there as the DEA, FDLE, Florida Department of Health and other agencies raided a local clinic, Miami-Dade Medical Solutions, on Ives Dairy Road around 10:45 Wednesday morning.
The DEA says the man pulling the strings of the multi-million dollar operation is a Pompano Beach firefighter, Lewis Stouffer. Another Pompano firefighter — Craig Turturo — is also facing charges in the case.
“Stouffer acted as an organizer, an advisor, and consultant to clinic owners, managers and doctors,” said DEA Special Agent in Charge Mark Trouville. “Stouffer went through great lengths to make sure his associates operated a seemingly legitimate business and provided them schemes on how to break the system.”
Investigators say Stouffer used his position and his knowledge of other high-profile pill mill investigations to run his scheme. And it was successful, the DEA says, to the tune of more than 2 million oxycodone pills being dispensed by the 7 doctors in just one year.
“Stoffer did this in greed and for profit,” Trouville said. “They did this for one reason only: to make money off of prescription drugs.”
The DEA says the investigation began in 2010 when law enforcement received complaints about suspicious activity at Stuart Pain Management in Vero Beach. Investigators say they traced the clinic and 8 others to Stouffer.
On Wednesday, the feds announced that they had seized 59 bank accounts totaling $1.1 million dollars. They served a total of 13 search warrants, including 7 at pain clinics in Miami, Vero Beach, Daytona Beach, Jacksonville, Sarasota, Gainesville and Pensacola.
At Miami-Dade Medical Solutions, CBS 4 cameras captured armed agents shouting, “Police. Open up. Search warrant,” as they entered the business around 10:45 in the morning. Shortly after, agents were seen carrying boxes out of the empty business.
The DEA and health officials say doctors were recruited to prescribe large quantities of dangerous prescription drugs like oxycodone that weren’t medically necessary. The state health department says each of the doctors arrested has had their medical licenses suspended.
State records show the registered agent for Miami-Dade Medical solutions is Bernice Turturo. A woman with the same name was arrested 2 weeks ago with her husband Frank accused of running a Pompano Beach pill mill.
The Broward Sheriff’s Office says they confiscated dozens of guns and hundreds of thousands of dollars from the Turturo’s home.
“It’s a cash business and it’s no different than traditional organized crime,” Broward Sheriff Al Lamberti said on July 12, the day of the raid.
Both of the Turturo’s remain in jail and they have company.
Dr. Michael Bengala, a physician from Pompano Beach was arrested Wednesday as part of Operation Pill Street Blues. Investigators say Bengala doled out prescription drugs at the Miami-Dade clinic for cash without doing a thorough exam of patients.
His attorney refuted the charges.
“We would deny any and all wrongdoing,” attorney Brian Silber told CBS 4′s Carey Codd. “We are conducting our own investigation.”
Other evidence revealed the callous nature of the conversations between pain clinic employees regarding the deaths of some of their patients.
According to the Florida health department, intercepted phone calls from earlier this year show a couple of higher ups discussing one of the doctors — Dr. Richard Gordon. The conversation arose after “…two of the patients that he treated already died.” One of the employees says Dr. Gordon is “bad luck.”
The document also reveals that the phone conversation records Dr. Gordon admitting that “he lied to police when the police interviewed him regarding one of the deceased patients.”
Health investigators say during the 2 year investigation of Miami-Dade clinic there were at least 3 drug overdose deaths and one murder suicide connected to the organization running the business.
The DEA also says intercepted phone calls show Stouffer talking to a co-defendant, Bruce Karlin, in March about the death of Forrest Cyphers, a patient of Dr. Gordon’s. Investigators say Stouffer told the co-defendant not to be upset because “people die every day.” Dr. Gordon and Karlin are charged with manslaughter in Cyphers’ death.
“These defendants are despicable,” said Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi. “They are sickening. They are worse than the typical defendant. Why? Because they have a title in front of their names like doctor.
“Two of them are firefighters who used their trust to enhance their businesses. Two firefighters that are suppose to be out saving lives, instead are stealing lives.”
A spokesperson for the city of Pompano Beach tells CBS 4 News that firefighters Stouffer and Turturo are suspended without pay. Both men began at the department on the same day 11 years ago and each, we are told, has a spotless record.