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Feds indict owners of alleged Moody pill mill

Brandon Moseley

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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.

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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.

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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.

Brandon Moseley is a senior reporter with eight and a half years at Alabama Political Reporter. You can email him at [email protected] or follow him on Facebook. Brandon is a native of Moody, Alabama, a graduate of Auburn University, and a seventh generation Alabamian.

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Education

Alabama declines to release COVID-19 data associated with child care centers

APR has asked for that data and whether ADPH was aware of the number of cases associated with child care centers statewide.

Eddie Burkhalter

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(STOCK PHOTO)

It was unclear Tuesday the number of confirmed cases of COVID-19 there have been among staff, children and relatives associated with child care facilities in Alabama, because the Alabama Department of Public Health declined to release that data.

“All cases of COVID-19 are required to be reported to the Alabama Department of Public Health under notifiable disease laws. ADPH is aware of cases in entities such as child care but does not report separately from other data,” said Dr. Karen Landers, assistant state health officer, in a message to APR on Tuesday.

APR has asked for that data and whether ADPH was aware of the number of cases associated with child care centers statewide.

Landers noted that ADPH does provide the percentage of cases among age ranges, however. There had been approximately 2,628 confirmed COVID-19 cases among Alabama children 4-years-old and younger as of Monday, according to ADPH’s dashboard, but the department doesn’t specify which of those cases are associated with child care centers, and it was unclear how many cases there have been among relatives or workers connected to child care centers.

While children 10-years-old and older can efficiently transmit COVID-19 to others, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in a recent report note that “limited data are available on SARS-CoV-2 transmission from young children, particularly in child care settings.”

The Sept, 18 CDC report looked at three COVID-19 outbreaks in child care facilities in Salt Lake County, Utah, during April 1 through July 10, and found that the 12 children who contracted the disease spread it to at least 12 others outside the centers, and one parent was hospitalized with coronavirus.

In one facility, researchers confirmed five cases among workers and two among children. One of those children, aged 8 months, transmitted COVID-19 to both parents, the report notes. Many of the children had mild symptoms or none at all, researchers found.

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“COVID-19 is less severe in children than it is in adults, but children can still play a role in transmission,” the report reads. “The infected children exposed at these three facilities had mild to no symptoms. Two of three asymptomatic children likely transmitted SARS-CoV-2 to their parents and possibly to their teachers.”

While Alabama’s Department of Public Health isn’t releasing data on cases associated with child care centers, many other states are, including Texas, South Carolina, North Carolina, California, Minnesota and Massachusetts.

There have been 332 confirmed cases, two deaths and 14 separate outbreaks associated with child care centers in North Carolina, according to the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services.

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Health officials in California’s Sonoma County traced 30 cases of coronavirus to one child at a child-care center in the county, where 16 students, 11 relatives and three workers tested positive, according to The Los Angeles Times. In addition to that outbreak, there have been 62 other cases at 13 child-care facilities in the county, including 27 family members, 10 workers and 25 students, with 381 cases of children younger than 17 still under investigation, the newspaper reported on Sept. 21.

Reopening child care centers can be done safely, according to an Aug. 28 report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which that found that in Rhode Island, which reopened child care centers on June 1, there were just 52 confirmed and probable cases among staff, children and relatives across 29 centers between June 1 and July 31.

The report noted that Rhode Island at first limited centers to 12 or fewer students, required staff and students to not move between groups in centers and “universal use of masks for adults, daily symptom screening of adults and children, and enhanced cleaning and disinfection according to CDC guidelines.”

Alabama State Health Officer Dr. Scott Harris on March 19 issued an order closing child care centers through April 5, with exceptions for facilities that provided services to first responders and other workers deemed essential. Harris on March 27 issued a supplemental order allowing centers that cared for 11 or fewer children to reopen.

The Alabama Department of Public Health on Monday published a press release touting the number of open child care centers across Alabama. According to the department, 76 percent of all child care facilities in Alabama are open.

“Alabama is well on our way to reopening the necessary number of child care facilities to enable parents to return to work and resume a more normal schedule,” said Alabama DHR commissioner Nancy Buckner, in a statement. “This is the sixth survey we have conducted and each one has shown tremendous growth in the numbers of open facilities. We have worked hard to encourage child care providers to open by providing support in the form of grants and supplies.”

Asked whether the department is aware of the number of COVID-19 cases among children, staff or relatives associated with child care centers, a DHR spokesperson responded in a message to APR on Monday that “We don’t track that.”

While child care plays a critical role for working parents across the country, the pandemic and subsequent shutdowns have put a strain on the businesses, according to a July 13 study by the National Association for the Education of Young Children, which surveyed more than 5,000 child care facilities in every state.

Among the child care centers surveyed, two out of five said they would have to close without more public assistance, while half of the minority-owned centers said they have to close without more aid, according to the report. A quarter of child care workers said they’d applied for or received unemployment benefits, and 73 percent of centers said they have or will begin laying off workers and/or make pay cuts.

An Aug. 26 study by the Washington D.C.-based nonprofit Bipartisan Policy Center found that 32 percent of parents polled said their child care centers were closed, 14 percent of them permanently, and 22 percent of the parents said they could not return to work in person without childcare.

Even when child care is available to parents, many are worried about sending their children back while COVID-19 continues to spread. Of those asked, 77 percent of parents said they were concerned that sending their kids back would increase the risk of exposing their family to COVID-19.

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Bill Britt

Opinion | Hubbard did the crime; he should do the time

Hubbard may not be a violent offender but his actions are a danger to society and a threat to the public.

Bill Britt

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Mike Hubbard looks toward his family after receiving sentencing on Friday, July 8, 2016, in Opelika, Ala. (Todd Van Emst/Opelika-Auburn News/Pool)

Attorneys for convicted felon, former Speaker of the House Mike Hubbard, believe he has suffered enough, and his sentence should be reduced because six of the charges against him were overturned on appeal.

The remaining six counts against Hubbard call for a prison term of four years, 16 years probation, and substantial fines independent of the charges the upper courts set aside. Therefore, there exist no reasonable grounds under which trial Judge Jacob Walker III should lessen Hubbard’s sentence.

This action on Hubbard’s behalf is simply another attempt to subvert justice.

A Lee County jury found Hubbard guilty of twelve counts of public corruption, most notably using his office for personal gain and using state resources and personnel to enrich himself—and those counts still stand.

The Court of Criminal Appeals rejected Count 5, and the Alabama Supreme Court struck down another five, which primarily dealt with the charges surrounding “principals.”

The upper-court’s finding appears more political than judicial, but most people in the state are used to jurists who bend the law for the rich and politically connected.

Of the remaining charges against Hubbard, five carry a ten-year spit sentence of two years in prison and eight years probation, and one count has a six-year split sentence with 18 months in jail with the remainder served on probation.

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Why would Judge Walker reverse his judgment since the appeals process left in place the charges that carry the very sentence he imposed?

Does Judge Walker think he erred in his sentencing? Does he now, in retrospect, believe he was unfair as Hubbard’s lawyers contend?

Hubbard’s appeal is merely more subterfuge and trickery disguised as a legal argument.

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Astonishingly, in their latest filing, lawyers, David McKnight and Joel Dillard, assert that Hubbard is not “a danger to society, nor a threat to the public” as a reason to let him out of prison.

Hubbard may not be a violent offender but his actions are a danger to society and a threat to the public.

Prison is not only for brutal inmates it is also for those who break a certain class of laws. Because a felon wears a thousand dollar suit doesn’t mean they deserve less jail time.

Hubbard’s crimes are some of the most heinous perpetrated against civil society.

Public corruption undermines the rule of law and the principles of good government and is an offense more potent than property theft, drug use, or other nonviolent crimes because it rips apart the very fabric of society and its trust in the foundations of the republic.

A corrupt politician’s actions subvert the very meaning of representative government.

Hubbard is not now a danger to society, or a threat to the public because he is behind bars. But make no mistake he is a menace to public good. Even before his indictment, Hubbard used every scheme at his disposal to thwart justice, entice lying and manipulate public trust. And now he wants one more shot at corrupting the system.

There are only two occasions when every individual should expect equal treatment: when they stand before a court of law and when they stand before their maker. Yes, a wealthy defendant like Hubbard can afford better legal representation, but it doesn’t mean he can purchase special justice.

Hubbard has been given preferential treatment by lawmakers, the media, and even some on the courts. All along the way, Hubbard was handled with kid gloves and given unwarranted privilege.

McKnight and Dillard argue with a straight face that letting Hubbard out of prison early will, “Preserve scarce prison bed-space for habitual offenders and others from whom society needs protection… [and] more likely result in the defendant’s rehabilitation than incarceration.”

The word rehabilitation is used several times in Hubbard’s most recent court filings as if somehow allowing him to avoid prison time will serve to rehabilitate him. To this day, Hubbard doesn’t believe he’s committed a crime, so how is rehabilitation possible?

His attorneys lastly make the most laughable argument possible by indicating Hubbard has suffered enough.

“[The] Court should consider the punishment that Hubbard has already suffered. The convictions in this case alone have resulted in a wide range of punishments which include his removal from office, the loss of his right to vote, the divestment of his business interests, and his current incarceration.”

Suffered enough?

When lawmakers break ethics laws, it upends society because it shatters trust while nullifying the social contract that binds us together in peace and safety.

State ethics laws are an attempt to force the government to rule themselves honestly.

Hubbard ignored the very ethics laws he championed and would do it all again.

He deserves punishment for his unlawful acts, and his prison sentence should stand as a reminder to others that justice doesn’t play favorites.

Hubbard did the crime, and he should serve the time.

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Elections

Jones introduces bill to encourage investments in minority-serving banks

“One of the biggest hurdles for minority entrepreneurs is access to capital,” Jones said.

Eddie Burkhalter

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U.S. Sen. Doug Jones

Alabama U.S. Sen. Doug Jones, D-Alabama, on Tuesday introduced legislation that would encourage investments in banks that serve minority communities.

“One of the biggest hurdles for minority entrepreneurs is access to capital,” Jones said in a statement. “That’s why this bill is so important. Increasing access to capital at the banks that serve minority communities will help expand financial opportunities for individuals and business owners in those communities.”

Jones, a member of the Senate Banking Committee, in April urged the Federal Reserve and the U.S. Treasury to support Community Development Financial Institutions and minority-owned banks disproportionately affected by the COVID-19 pandemic, and he threw his support behind more federal funding for small community banks, minority-owned banks and CDFIs during the recent Paycheck Protection Program replenishment.

According to a press release from Jones’s office, the bill would attract investments to those financial institutions by changing rules to allow “minority-owned banks, community banks with under $10 billion in deposits” and CDFIs to accept brokered deposits, or investments with high interest rates, thereby bolstering those institutions and encourage them to invest and lend in their communities.

It would also allow low-income and minority credit unions to access the National Credit Union Administration’s Community Development Revolving Loan Fund.

“Commonwealth National Bank would like to thank Senator Jones for his leadership in introducing the Minority Depository Institution and Community Bank Deposit Access Act. As a small Alabama home grown institution, this proposal will allow us to accept needed deposits without the current limitations that hinder our ability to better serve the historically underserved communities that our institutions were created to serve. We support your efforts and encourage you to keep fighting the good fight for all of America,” said Sidney King, president and CEO of Commonwealth National Bank, in a statement.

“The Minority Depository Institution and Community Bank Deposit Access Act is a welcomed first step in helping Minority Depository Institutions like our National Bankers Association member banks develop the kinds of national deposit networks that allow our institutions to compete for deposits with larger banks and to better meet the credit needs of the communities we serve. The National Bankers Association commends Senator Jones’ leadership on this issue, and we look forward to continuing to engage with him on the ultimate passage of this proposal,” said Kenneth Kelly, chairman of the National Bankers Association, in a statement.

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A recent report by the Brookings Institute highlighted problems minority-owned businesses had accessing federal COVID-19 relief aid from PPP loans. Researchers found that it took seven days longer for small businesses with paid employees in majority Black zip codes to receive PPP loans, compared to majority-white communities. That gap grew to three weeks for non-employer minority-owned small businesses, the report notes.

The report also states that while minority-owned small businesses, many of which are unbanked or under banked, get approximately 80 percent of their loans from financial technology companies and online lending companies, fintechs weren’t allowed under federal law to issue PPP loans until April 14.

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Crime

SPLC report: Despite COVID-19 deaths, Alabama isn’t releasing older, at-risk inmates

Eddie Burkhalter

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(STOCK PHOTO)

A report by the Southern Poverty Law Center published Tuesday found that almost 200 older state inmates, at greater risk from COVID-19, were eligible for parole, but either had no hearing or were denied parole over the summer. 

Alabama’s three-member Board of Pardons and Paroles denied parole for 44 people who were 65 and older over the summer, SPLC’s report states, and a dozen of the more than 1,100 older inmates identified in a previous SPLC report have since died, either from COVID-19 or other illnesses. 

“Despite confirming the deaths, it remains unclear whether the cause could have been COVID-19 as ADOC would not provide information about those individuals in response to a public records request, citing ongoing internal investigations,” the report reads. 

The SPLC and several other criminal justice reform groups urged the Alabama Department of Corrections and the Alabama Bureau of Pardons and Paroles to take steps to release at-risk inmates as the coronavirus pandemic began, through medical parole, medical furloughs and judicial sentence reviews, but to date, no such larger push to release inmates has taken place. 

According to ADOC, 22 inmates have died after testing positive for COVID-19.

SPLC’s report notes that many of the inmates who died had underlying health conditions, which were well known to prison officials. 

The Parole Board denied parole to more than three dozen inmates 65 or older since restarting parole hearings in May, according to the report. 

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“The BPP stopped paroles starting in March, against the demands of activists and legislators who pointed out that hearings could be done virtually. Hundreds of scheduled parole hearings were cancelled. After its hiatus, the BPP scheduled relatively few hearings throughout the summer compared to years past,” authors of the report wrote.

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