Texas Pharmacist Convicted in Pill-Mill Pharmacy Case
A federal jury in Houston has rendered a conviction in a case involving a Texas pharmacist’s role in a pill-mill pharmacy. The pharmacy unlawfully dispensed over 100,000 opioid pills in exchange for cash.
Operation of the Pill-Mill Pharmacy
Deanna Winfield-Gates, a 54-year-old resident of Houston, was found guilty of her involvement in Health Fit Pharmacy, a cash-only pill-mill pharmacy. The pharmacy operated from January 2014 to January 2018 and engaged in the illicit dispensing of controlled substances. These substances were provided to drug traffickers in exchange for substantial sums of money, frequently based on fraudulent prescriptions bearing stolen identities of physicians. Winfield-Gates, who worked as a relief pharmacist at Health Fit, filled a significant volume of standardized prescriptions, including opioids like hydrocodone 10-325mg and oxycodone 30mg, as well as carisoprodol, alprazolam, and promethazine with codeine, often in combination. Her actions were carried out with knowledge that these controlled substances were at high risk of diversion or abuse.
Conviction and Sentencing
The jury found Winfield-Gates guilty on one count of conspiring to unlawfully distribute and dispense controlled substances. She is scheduled for sentencing on January 11, 2024, with the potential of facing a maximum penalty of 20 years in prison. The sentencing will be determined by a federal district court judge, considering various factors, including the U.S. Sentencing Guidelines.
Co-Defendants and Investigation
Winfield-Gates was the final defendant in this case, with three co-defendants having previously pleaded guilty to their roles in the conspiracy. The Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) conducted the investigation.
Justice Department’s Efforts Against Health Care Fraud
The case was announced by Acting Assistant Attorney General Nicole M. Argentieri of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division, U.S. Attorney Alamdar S. Hamdani for the Southern District of Texas, and Special Agent in Charge Daniel C. Comeaux of the DEA Houston Field Division.
The Criminal Division’s Fraud Section, led by Trial Attorneys Drew Pennebaker and Courtney Chester, is responsible for prosecuting this case. It’s worth noting that the Fraud Section plays a pivotal role in the Justice Department’s efforts to combat health care fraud through initiatives like the Health Care Fraud Strike Force Program. Since its launch in March 2007, this program has resulted in the charging of over 5,000 defendants who collectively billed the Medicare program for more than $24 billion. Collaboration with agencies like the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services and the Office of the Inspector General for the Department of Health and Human Services aims to hold providers accountable for their involvement in health care fraud schemes. More information can be found at Justice Department’s Health Care Fraud Unit.