FORT LAUDERDALE (CBS4) — Federal agents say they busted a suspected pill mill operation in Fort Lauderdale on Wednesday.
Investigators say operators of the Intracoastal Medical Group ran a pill mill since 2010, dispensing large quantities of oxycodone and other prescription drugs without a legitimate medical purpose. An indictment in the case says the operation was lucrative — raking in more than $4 million dollars.
The indictment names seven people arrested in connection with the operation.
The U.S. Attorney for South Florida, The Drug Enforcement Administration’s Miami Field Division along with Broward Sheriff’s Office unsealed the federal indictment that alleged the seven illegally dispensed oxycodone while operating Intracoastal Medical Groups, Inc. (IMG) in Broward County.
Jason Boyd, 43, of Davie, Jason Rodriguez, 36, of Fort Lauderdale, Vijay Chowdary, M.D., 69 of Boca Raton, Harish Chowdary, P.A., 64, of Fort Lauderdale, Amanda Bozer, 34 of Fort Lauderdale, Nestor Merces, Jr., 35, of Pembroke Pines were all arrested.
Investigators say Hector Bruno, 35, of New York, is still a fugitive.
Most of the accused made their appearances in federal court in Fort Lauderdale and Connecticut on Wednesday.
The indictment alleged that from October 2010 to July 2013, the seven offered patients oxycodone, a painkiller, and other controlled substances without a legitimate medical purpose.
Some of the people who bought the painkillers drove hundreds of miles, according to the 20-count indictment.
Todd Campbell, who owns a business nearby the clinic, which is located near the Galleria Mall, said he saw lots of out-of-state license plates at the clinic.
“There’s people coming from all over the country, driving to South Florida to get prescription drugs,” Campbell told CBS 4 News. “I think it’s wrong.”
Campbell said he was pleased to see agents descend on the clinic. He says the community dealt with an increase in crime and vandalism and often found syringes and needles littering the ground.
As the feds carted away box after box of evidence out of the clinic, CBS 4 News learned that the operators of the clinic are accused of using phony MRI’s to further the operation as well as other phony documents — like fake Florida ID’s — to make it look like their patients resided in state.
Investigators also say the operators of the clinic encouraged the use of sponsors — people who would pay for the expenses for someone to visit the clinic and in exchange would receive all of the medications that patient was prescribed.
Janet Colbert is the founder of a group called STOPPNOW that protests at suspected pill mills. She says her group rallied at the clinic two years ago after complaints from residents and business owners.
She says state health officials need to crack down on doctors who work at pill mills.
“Anytime they can get one and close one down, thank God,” she said, adding that “the Board of Medicine and the (Florida) Department of Health is not taking these doctor’s licenses away and they should be.”
According to the indictment, Jason Boyd operated and financed IMG until the Florida Legislature passed a law requiring pain management clinics to be owned by licensed physicians. IMG’s ownership was transferred to Dr. Chowdary in March 2012.
If convicted, the seven people could face decades in prison.
CBS4 first became aware of unusual activities at Intracoastal Medical Group in 2011. At that time, residents said that IMG was seeing patients frequently and they suspected it was a pill mill.
The clinic is sandwiched between high rise waterfront condos and the Galleria Mall.
Residents in the area told Murray, in 2011, they noticed an uptick in traffic at the pain management clinic when the feds raided 40 pain clinics and arrested doctors and the owners of alleged pill mills dispensing thousands of pain pills in 2010 and 2011.
CBS4 also learned from 2010 to 2011, a Fort Lauderdale Police visited the Intracoastal Medical Group 18 times within 16 months. Half of those calls were alarms, two were medical calls, two were suspicious incidents, one was regarding disorderly conduct and four police assists.
Murray attempted to enter the clinic in 2011, but the clinic manager denied her access and denied it was operating as a pill mill.
At that time, the manager, Geo Hernandez said, “we’re not dispensing medication, we do not have an in house pharmacy. Doctors see patients. That’s it.”