VERO BEACH (CBSMiami)- Ritter Cyphers knew his brother Forrest was in trouble, battling a prescription drug problem.
Cyphers decided to call the pain clinic in Vero Beach where his brother was being treated.
“Why didn’t the clinic run his background and realize he’s doctor shopping,” Cyphers told CBS 4’s Carey Codd. “Why did they still prescribe him pills?”
What Cyphers didn’t know was that agents from the Drug Enforcement Administration were listening in on the February phone call.
Mark Trouville, Special Agent in Charge of Miami’s DEA Field Division said at a Wednesday news conference that they intercepted phone calls showing Ritter called Bruce Karlin — a pain clinic owner — warning about his brothers’ prescription drug habit.
“Ritter Cyphers told Mr. Karlin that his brother was a doctor shopper and pleaded with Mr. Karlin to save his brother,” Trouville said.
Instead, the DEA says Karlin brushed Ritter’s concerns aside.
Less than a month later, Forrest Cyphers was dead.
Doctor Roger Gordon and Karlin are charged with manslaughter in Cyphers’ death. Their arrests were announced Wednesday as part of Operation Pill Street Blues — a 2-year, statewide investigation that led to the arrests of 7 doctors and 7 pain clinic owners.
The man pulling the strings of the multi-million dollar operation, the feds say, was 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 Marc 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.
The feds 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 on Wednesday 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 had their medical licenses suspended.
Ritter Cyphers says it’s incomprehensible to him that doctors would be involved in something like this.
“They just want to take your money and rape you and it’s (on to) the next patient,” Cyphers said.
Documents from the Florida Department of Health reveal how the case was built against Gordon.
Undercover agents visited Gordon at Miami-Dade Medical Solutions and were prescribed “large quantities of highly addictive controlled substances” despite the officers’ “drug seeking behavior.”
According to the Florida Health Department, intercepted phone calls from earlier this year show a couple of higher ups discussing 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 Gordon admitting that “he lied to police when the police interviewed him regarding one of the deceased patients.”
As a result of Operation Pill Street Blues, an emergency suspension was ordered for Gordon’s medical license.
The suspension reads in part:
“Dr. Gordon acted with indifference to the health of patients by prescribing the most highly addictive drugs to patients with no demonstration of medical need,” according to the Florida Department of Health suspension order.
The Department of Health wrote that Gordon’s practicing of medicine constitutes “an immediate serious danger to the health, safety and welfare of the public.” In addition the DOH cites Gordon’s “professional and medical incompetence, his lack of good moral character” and “his unwillingness to carry out even the most basic functions required of physicians in the state of Florida,” as reasons for suspending his medical license.
This wasn’t the first time Gordon had been on the radar of the Florida Department of Health. He was fined in a 2004 investigation following the deaths of two of his patients at a cosmetic surgery center in Broward.
In a 2009 case, Gordon was investigated for “making deceptive, untrue, or fraudulent representations” regarding his disciplinary history. He was fined several thousand dollars.
We asked the Deputy Press Secretary for the Florida Department of Health why Gordon was allowed to continue practicing medicine despite his prior disciplinary history.
“The Florida Board of Medicine takes action on an individual case by case basis,” said Ashley Carr, Deputy Press Secretary.
The DEA says the ring made millions prescribing millions of dangerous prescription drugs that were not medically necessary.
“We will continue to pursue and arrest those clinic owners, employees and doctors who pose as health care professionals and hide behind their white coats and diplomas,” Trouville said Wednesday.
From the doctors allegedly involved to the firefighter accused of running the show, Ritter Cyphers is angry that his beloved brother — just 34 years old — is gone.
“It’s just sick,” Cyphers said. “It just boggles my mind how professionals who are trained to save lives do the opposite. It’s all about greed.”