FORT WORTH (CBSDFW.COM) — A group in Fort Worth — including two doctors, a nurse practitioner, and five pharmacists — have been convicted of operating an $18 million pill mill.
In all, forty-six defendants were convicted after being arrested during a Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) effort by the Fort Worth Tactical Diversion Squad called “Operation Wasted Daze.”READ MORE: Troops From Mexico, Honduras, Guatemala Deployed To Guard Borders And Lower Migration
The lead defendant, oncologist Caesar Mark Capistrano, was charged with multiple counts of conspiracy to dispense hydrocodone and possession with intent to distribute hydrocodone or carisoprodol. He and five coconspirators – pharmacists Ethel Oyekunle-Bubu, Wilkinson Oloyede Thomas, and Christopher Kalejaiye Ajayi as well as recruiter Brian Kincade and recruit Alphonse Fisher – were convicted at trial. The remaining 41 defendants pleaded guilty prior to trial.
According to evidence presented at three different trials, Capistrano and his associate, 36-year-old Dr. Tameka Lachelle Noel, wrote prescriptions for hydrocodone, oxycodone, alprazolam, carisoprodol, zolpidem, phentermine, and promethazine with codeine, knowing the drugs would be diverted to the streets for illicit use.
Prosecutors say Capistrano and Noel used a network of recruiters to enlist individuals from the community and local homeless shelters to pose as “patients.” The recruiters paid each “patient” a small fee, usually $50 to $200 cash, to obtain controlled substance prescriptions.
The recruiters – who paid the clinic based in part on the amount of drugs prescribed – then filled the prescriptions at various complicit pill mill pharmacies and diverted the drugs for resale on the streets.READ MORE: Virtual Learning May Remain An Option At Some North Texas School Districts
In order to make the prescriptions appear legitimate, the doctors occasionally included prescriptions for non-controlled substances, such as antibiotics and mineral ice.
Over a nine-year span, Capistrano issued prescriptions for more than 524,000 doses of hydrocodone, 430,000 doses of carisoprodol, 77,000 doses of alprazolam, and 2.07 million doses of promethazine with codeine. Over seven years, Noel issued prescriptions for more than 200,000 doses of hydrocodone, 55,000 doses of carisoprodol, 14,000 doses of alprazolam, and 450,000 doses of promethazine with codeine.
“The doctors, pharmacists, and clinic staff convicted in this case violated not only medical ethics, but federal law as well,” aid U.S. Attorney Prerak Shah.
“Mr. Capistrano and his criminal associates have violated the public’s trust and stained the image of such a vital and noble profession in our society,” said DEA Dallas Field Division Special Agent in Charge, Eduardo A. Chávez.MORE NEWS: Firefighters Battle Raging Fire At Addison Apartment Complex
Capistrano now faces up to 100 years in federal prison. His coconspirators also face up to 20 years per count of conviction.