Four people were given prison sentences today for their involvement in a ring that operated pain management clinics and pharmacies that illegally dispensed millions of dollars in prescription pain pills.
The Drug Enforcement Administration has said this case represents one of the biggest of its kind in the Tampa area, where authorities have wrestled with eliminating so-called pill mills that lure drug addicts across state lines.
For a time last year, VIP Pharmacy, the pharmacy the DEA says was operated as part of the conspiracy, dispensed more oxycodone than any other retail pharmacy in the nation, according to court documents.
Sentenced today by U.S. District Judge Virginia M. Hernandez Covington were: Marco Beltran, who received 15 years, eight months; Louis Fernandez Jr., who received two years; his son, Louis Fernandez III, who received five years and six months; and Kimberly Curtiss, who must serve four years in prison.
All four defendants were given reduced sentences to varying degrees because of cooperation they have provided investigators in other cases.
In 2009, the pharmacy bought more than 1.5 million dosage units of oxycodone from wholesalers — more than 13 times the average for Florida pharmacies and more than 20 times the average for pharmacies nationwide.
Then, from January through May 2010, VIP Pharmacy purchased more than 1.2 million dosage units of the drug — more than 24 times the amount of oxycodone sold by the average retail pharmacy in Florida and more than 76 times the national average, according to DEA statistics.
Authorities estimate the pharmacy sold nearly 2.7 million oxycodone pills from January 2009 until May 2010 at prices ranging from $2 to $7 per pill.
Witnesses reported seeing wads of cash bundled with rubber bands and kept in shoeboxes, and technicians fabricating prescriptions and faking patient profiles, according to court documents.
At the same time, pain clinics associated with the pharmacy were seeing scores of patients every day, many from out of state, investigators say.
The Fernandezes and Beltran operated Superior Injury Center at 1779 W. Hillsborough Ave. and Tampa Bay Wellness Centre at 2137 W. Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd.
Beltran, a licensed pharmacist, ran VIP Pharmacy with co-defendants Christopher Switlyk and Kimberly Curtiss, court documents state. Switlyk's sentencing is pending.