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Birmingham-area doctors indicted for role in pill mill

Wednesday, federal authorities announced that Birmingham area doctors and their co-conspirators were indicted for $7.8 million in health care fraud, unlawful drug distribution and money laundering

The March indictments were unsealed Wednesday, charging four people in connection to a $7.8 million health care fraud conspiracy at a Birmingham clinic, and charges that the husband and wife physicians who operated the clinic used it, in part, as a “pill mill.”

U.S. Attorney Jay E. Town, FBI Special Agent in Charge Johnnie Sharp Jr. and Drug Enforcement Administration Assistant Special Agent in Charge Bret Hamilton announced the charges.

The 44-count indictments returned charges against Dr. Patrick Emeka Ifediba, 59, and his wife, Dr. Uchenna Grace Ifediba, 53. The Shoal Creek couple both had medical degrees from the University of Nigeria, Faculty of Medicine. They were licensed to practice medicine in Alabama, and each obtained a Drug Enforcement Administration registration number, which authorized them to issue controlled substance prescriptions. The Ifedibas were doctors of internal medicine. They were not pain management specialists or allergists.

Patrick Ifediba’s sister, Ngozi Justina Ozuligbo, 48, of Trussville, and Clement Essien Edio, 60 of Hoover, were also indicted in the health care fraud conspiracy. It brings other charges against the various defendants, including unlawful drug distribution conspiracy and money laundering conspiracy.

A federal judge unsealed the 44-count indictment following Patrick Ifediba’s arrest.

“The opioid crisis in the United States accounts for the deaths of tens of thousands of Americans every year,” Town said. “Physicians who pocket millions while taking advantage of patients, many of whom are addicted to opioids, and unnecessarily drive up health care costs for both patients and insurance providers, knowingly sacrifice the efficacy of care for greed.”

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Town said, “Physicians who engage in this illicit practice will soon be trading their white coats for prison stripes.”

“The FBI and our partners will continue to pursue and bring to justice those who violate their Hippocratic Oath for greed and needlessly destroy lives, families and communities,” Sharp said.

“DEA has dedicated an entire enforcement group to investigating drug dealers who hide behind medical degrees in the state of Alabama, and as long as we have doctors in this state who base their decisions on profits versus best medical care, we will continue to do so,” Hamilton said. “DEA agents and task force officers have been investigating the Ifedibas and their coconspirators for three years. This is a testament to the dedication and patience of these investigators and should be a warning to any medical providers who would resort to fraud and illegal prescribing.”

“As alleged, the indictment describes schemes motivated by unbridled greed in which the doctors allegedly used their prescribing authority to force unwilling, but ultimately opioid-dependent, patients to submit to unnecessary allergy testing and treatment in exchange for narcotics prescriptions,” said Assistant U.S. Attorney Mohammad Khatib. “Such conduct is not only anti-medicine; it is a crime for which justice demands a serious response.”

The charges all stem from the defendants’ association with Care Complete Medical Clinic, a private clinic at 1300 Bessemer Road in Birmingham that provided allergy and pain management services. The indictment charges that the four defendants stole millions of dollars from health care programs by fraudulently billing for allergy treatments and services. Apart from the health care fraud conspiracy and scheme, Uchenna Ifediba is further charged with one count of false statements in connection with health care matters.

Drs. Patrick and Uchenna Ifediba also are charged as part of an unlawful drug distribution conspiracy. The husband and wife team churned out prescriptions for schedule II controlled substances – opioid painkillers – for no legitimate medical purpose in order to maximize personal financial gain, according to the indictment. The pair also faces one count of maintaining drug-involved premises for allegedly operating CCMC, in part, as a pill mill. Patrick Ifediba also faces 14 counts, and Uchena Ifediba, five counts, of unlawful distribution of controlled substances.

Patrick Ifediba and Ozuligbo are further charged as part of a money laundering conspiracy. Among other violations, the siblings moved the proceeds of CCMC’s unlawful health care fraud and pill mill scheme in order to hide the illicit nature of the funds, according to the indictment. Dr. Patrick Ifediba faces an additional three counts of concealment money laundering, and four counts of engaging in monetary transactions in criminally derived property valued at more than $10,000. The indictment charges Uchenna Ifediba and Ozuligbo with three counts and one count, respectively, of concealment money laundering.

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The charges of conspiracy to commit health care fraud and health care fraud both carry maximum penalties of 10 years in prison and a $250,000 fine. Making false statements related to health care matters carries a maximum penalty of five years in prison and a $250,000 fine. Conspiracy to distribute controlled substances and distribution of controlled substances both carry a maximum penalty of 20 years in prison and a $1 million fine. Maintaining drug-involved premises carries a maximum penalty of 20 years in prison and a $500,000 fine. Money laundering conspiracy and laundering of monetary instruments both carry a maximum penalty of 20 years in prison and a $250,000 fine. Engaging in monetary transactions in criminally derived property worth more than $10,000 carries a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison and a fine of $250,000, or twice the amount of the criminally derived property involved.

The FBI and DEA investigated the case, which Assistant U.S. Attorneys Khatib and Jim Weil are prosecuting.

These 44 counts are merely indictments. Defendants are presumed innocent until proven guilty by a jury of their peers.

These are federal indictments. Under the Alabama criminal code, physicians are immune from being prosecuted for drug dealing so local police, district attorneys and the Alabama Attorney General’s office are powerless to stop drug dealing doctors. State Representative Christopher John England, D-Tuscaloosa, introduced legislation to end that criminal immunity for doctors in Alabama law. England’s bill passed the House; but was defeated in the Senate after the powerful Alabama Medical Association opposed the legislation.

Alabamians have the highest rates of opioid use in the entire world, according to a recent study.

If you have prescriptions from the Ifedibas or their clinic, you probably need to get a second medical opinion.

Brandon Moseley is a former reporter at the Alabama Political Reporter.

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