OAK PARK, Mich. – Two doctors, the owner of a medical clinic, a patient recruiter and a clinic employee have been charged with participating in a conspiracy to illegally distribute more than 674,00 opioid doses worth a total of $20 million to patients who didn't need them.
Five Metro Detroit residents named in conspiracy
Officials said Iris Winchester, 48, of Oak Park, owned Orthopedic Medical Building, in Oak Park. In June 2016, Winchester hired Dr. Michaele Ritter, 60, of Commerce Township, and in March 2017, she hired Dr. Charise Valentine, 62, of Southfield, to work as independent contractor physicians at OMB.
At the time of their hiring, Ritter and Valentine were licensed medical doctors in Michigan and authorized by the Drug Enforcement Administration to prescribe controlled substances.
Winchester also hired Kristina Brown, 30, of Dearborn Heights, to help her manage OMB, according to court records.
As part of the conspiracy, Winchester, Brown and others created false medical records required by Ritter and Valentine, officials said. Each patient would later see one of the doctors and, after a cursory examination or no examination at all, Ritter or Valentine would write multiple illegal prescriptions, according to court documents.
Officials said Ritter and Valentine would prescribe oxycodone and oxymorphone, two of the most addictive opioids and ones that have high street value.
"We have a genuine and devastating epidemic of opiate abuse in this country which is compounded by those that prey on the vulnerable," said FBI Detroit Special Agent in Charge Timothy R. Slater.
Winchester only accepted cash at OMB and charged patients based on the quantity, type and dosage of prescription opioids they received, officials said.
Winchester, Brown and other employees would also create fake medical records such as MRIs, urine drug screens and Michigan Automated Prescription System reports, according to officials.
Joyce Robinson, 62, of Detroit, also known as "Auntie" or "Jelly," would bring the patients to OMB to be seen by Ritter and Valentine and issued medically unnecessary opioid prescriptions, officials said.
How the scheme worked
The prescriptions would be provided to the purported patient or to the recruiter, who would then fill the prescription and sell the pills on the street, according to officials.
Robinson charged a fee to help other patient recruiters in bringing their patients to OMB, officials said. She would fill prescriptions and sell them on the street at a significant profit, according to court records.
According to the indictment, the doctors issued more than 674,500 doses of opioid prescriptions from June 2016 to July 2018. The total estimated street value of the pills is more than $20 million.
Both the controlled substances and noncontrolled "maintenance" medications would be billed to health care benefit programs by the pharmacies, officials said.
The "maintenance medication" was used to make the prescribing practices of Ritter and Valentine appear more legitimate by reducing the percentage of controlled substance prescriptions, according to court documents.
Ritter's prescriptions during the length of the conspiracy billed Medicare for more than $1.2 million, officials said. Valentine's prescriptions billed Medicare more than $750,000, according to court records.
Winchester, Ritter, Valentine, Robinson and Brown have all been charged with one count of conspiracy to illegally distribute prescription drugs and other opioid-related charges.
"Our unwavering commitment to prosecuting these types of offenses should send a strong message to those who may want to flood our communities with these highly addictive drugs," U.S. Attorney Matthew Schneider said.
Winchester has been charged with eight counts of aiding and abetting the unlawful distribution of controlled substances.
Ritter has been charged with five counts of aiding and abetting the unlawful distribution of controlled substances.
Valentine has been charged with three counts of aiding and abetting the unlawful distribution of controlled substances.
Robinson has been charged with seven counts of aiding and abetting the unlawful distribution of controlled substances and three counts of distributing oxycodone.
All five women will have to forfeit any money earned through the conspiracy if convicted, court records show.
View full indictment
You can view the full indictment below.