Wednesday, a federal grand jury indicted a Springville couple and a prominent Moody doctor on charges they operated a pill mill in Moody, St. Clair County for four years.
U.S. Attorney Jay E. Town, Drug Enforcement Administration Assistant Special Agent in Charge Bret Hamilton and Internal Revenue Service, Criminal Investigation, Special Agent in Charge Thomas J. Holloman announced the twenty county indictments.
The 20 count indictment filed in U.S. District Court charges Cindy Louise Hyche Dunn, age 53; her husband, Thomas Mason Dunn, age 56, and Dr. John Ladd Buckingham, age 85, in a conspiracy to operate a clinic in Moody for the main purpose of illegally distributing or dispensing controlled substances outside the usual course of professional practice and not for a legitimate medical purpose.
Federal authorities claim the conspiracy was for the participants to enrich themselves. The group ran Cindy Dunn & Dr. Buckingham, M.D., Weight Loss Clinic and Pain Management (CDPM) at the prestigious Moody Professional Building from January 2012 through December 2015.
“Personal greed motivates the people who operate illegal pain clinics, mass-prescribing opioids without medical justification and with no regard to the larger pain they bring to individuals, families and communities,” Town said. “The Department of Justice is determined to stamp out the operation of illegal pain clinics by all legal means as part of the fight against opioid abuse, and the Northern District of Alabama is fully committed to the fight. As one of 12 districts across the county participating in the department’s pilot Opioid Fraud and Abuse Detection Unit, we are taking advantage of data collection and analysis and joining together federal, state and local law enforcement to investigate and shut down illegal pill mills for good.”
“The abuse of prescription drugs is a serious problem in our communities – leading to addiction, shattered lives, and even death,” Hamilton said. “For the health and safety of our citizens, DEA and our law enforcement partners will continue to target those who illegally obtain and distribute these potentially dangerous drugs. We hope that these indictments serve as a reminder to anyone who might illegally divert pharmaceuticals that they will be held accountable for the harm they cause.”
“This was a classic example of a pill mill and these individuals will be held accountable,” Holloman said. “We will continue to work with our law enforcement partners in tackling the opioid epidemic head on in the state of Alabama. In following the money, you can trace the drug proceeds to the beneficiaries and bring the entire conspiracy ring to justice.”
The indictment includes 16 counts charging Cindy Dunn and Dr. Buckingham with unlawfully dispensing a controlled substance, all containing opioids. As part of the conspiracy and in disregard for usual standards of professional medical practice. The indictment claims that Cindy Dunn, Buckingham and other co-conspirators prescribed more than 13,500 methadone-based pills to one patient and more than 8,200 oxycodone-based pills to another patient. They also prescribed more than 7,900 oxycodone-based and methadone-based pills, collectively, to a single patient, and 7,700 oxycodone-based and methadone-based pills, collectively, to another different patient.
Federal authorities claim that Cindy Dunn, owner and president of CDPM, operated the clinic, including hiring and directing physicians and staff and making financial decisions. She mainly hired relatives as clerical staff and, for the vast majority of the clinic’s operation, did not employ formally trained nurses or medical assistants. According to the indictment. Cindy Dunn had no known medical education of her own.
Thomas Dunn performed various administrative and financial duties for CDPM and received prescriptions for opioids from the clinic, according to the indictment. Buckingham was a licensed physician in Alabama and was very well known in the Moody community where he had been a general practitioner for decades. According to the indictment, Buckingham was not a certified pain management specialist.
CDPM typically charged a $25 patient application fee, a $200 to $300 clinic visit fee for new patients, then a $90 to $125 monthly fee for follow-up visits, according to the indictment. The clinic did not accept insurance. The clinic required cash or credit payments. Patient examinations were “infrequent, and were typically minimal and cursory,” and Cindy Dunn and CDPM staff often issued controlled substance prescriptions that were pre-signed by Buckingham or other physician co-conspirators, according to the indictment.
The indictment charges that Cindy Dunn and Dr. Buckingham maintained a drug-involved premises, and charges all three defendants with participating in a money-laundering conspiracy by opening bank accounts for the clinic and conducting financial transactions with illegally obtained funds in order to keep the illicit business operating.
The final count of the indictment charges Cindy Dunn with engaging in a monetary transaction involving criminally derived property valued at more than $10,000. The charge cites a $25,000 deposit into a CDPM account at Regions Bank with money from a clinic account at Metro Bank.
Both the conspiracy to distribute controlled substances outside the usual course of professional practice charge and each substantive count of illegally distributing controlled substances carry a maximum penalty of 20 years in prison and a $1 million fine. The charge of maintaining a drug-involved premises carries a maximum penalty of 20 years in prison and a $500,000 fine. Money-laundering conspiracy carries a maximum penalty of 20 years in prison and a $250,000 fine. Engaging in monetary transactions involving criminal proceeds carries a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison and a $250,000 fine.
The DEA and IRS-CI investigated the case, which Assistant U.S. Attorney Mohammad Khatib is prosecuting.
An indictment is not proof of guilt. Everyone is presumed innocent until a jury of their peers votes to convict them beyond a reasonable doubt. Dr. Buckingham and the Dunns will have an opportunity to defend themselves in a court of law.
Alabamians have the most prescriptions per capita for opioids of any people anywhere in the world.
Alabama, unlike neighboring states, does not hold doctors criminally liable for the reckless over prescribing of narcotics, thus pill mills and “Dr. Feel Goods” are able to operate their unscrupulous practices with no fear of the local authorities. Legislation to change this situation was sponsored by State Representative Christopher John England (D-Tuscaloosa) during the last legislative session. It passed the House but was killed by Senators allied with the powerful Alabama Medical Association in the state Senate.
Over 60,000 Americans were killed last year by drug overdoses. Many of them first became addicted by their doctors’ frivolous over-prescription of opioids.
This reporter knows Dr. Buckingham and routinely does business with the other businesses in the Moody Professional Building.