A Tennessee doctor has admitted to conspiring to illegally distribute drugs that ended up being abused in Kentucky and will forfeit $13.8 million to the government.
Robert E. Taylor, 57, pleaded guilty Tuesday in federal court in Frankfort.
Taylor owned clinics in Tennessee called EHC Medical that provide buprenorphine — often referred to by the trade name Suboxone — to people who are addicted to drugs. It is a legal drug used to treat addiction to opioid painkillers because it blocks withdrawal symptoms.
Federal authorities say the drug can also be abused to get high, and it is often diverted to illegal sales.
Taylor said in court that EHC Medical provided lifesaving care to people, but acknowledged that the clinics also fell short of accepted medical standards in providing buprenorphine prescriptions to people.
The business paid doctors based largely on the number of patients they saw. In focusing on that, there were times when providers at the clinics in Harriman and Jacksboro saw more patients than they could legitimately treat, Taylor said.
“There were times when I fell short in my obligation as a physician and an owner,” Taylor said during the hearing before U.S. District Judge Gregory F. Van Tatenhove.
In his plea agreement, which was not available immediately after the hearing, Taylor said he either knew, or deliberately ignored a high probability, that the way he and others agreed to operate EHC Medical would cause unauthorized prescriptions to be written.
On Dec. 31, 2015, for instance, Taylor and four other doctors saw a total of 345 people, according to the plea.
In addition to forfeiting $13.8 million from bank and investment accounts, Taylor’s plea calls for a prison sentence ranging from 22 to 33 months and a fine of $200,000.
Van Tatenhove will decide later whether to accept the plea. If he rejects the deal, Taylor could negotiate a new plea or go to trial.
Taylor and seven other doctors who worked at his clinics are charged in the case, which alleges that EHC Medical was a source of buprenorphine and anti-depressants such as Xanax that drug dealers sold illegally in southeast Kentucky.
One of the doctors, Matthew Rasberry, pleaded guilty in May.
He said in his plea that the workload at ECH Medical was so high, he sometimes felt rushed and spent less time examining people than appropriate.
Rasberry said he treated patients at times with such speed that it rendered his medical care and decision making “illegitimate and outside the scope of professional practice.”
On Feb. 4, 2016, for instance, Rasberry acknowledged writing prescriptions to more than 90 people.
He also said he routinely put down on forms that he did medical evaluations he didn’t really do.
Another person charged in the case, Brian Bunch, has also pleaded guilty to conspiracy to illegally distribute buprenorphine and benzodiazepines — anti-depressants such as Valium and Xanax — in and around Knox County.
Bunch said he used EHC Medical as a source for drugs he diverted to illegal sale because he could pay cash for prescriptions even though he was not being legitimately treated for substance abuse.
The other doctors and another alleged Kentucky drug dealer have pleaded not guilty.
The case is related to a criminal case against Calvin Manis, a former pharmacist and city council member in Barbourville who admitted filling prescriptions for people he knew were selling the drugs illegally.
Manis was sentenced last year to eight years and four months in federal prison.Healthcare Fraud Medically Unnecessary NADDI Opioid Crisis Pill Mills Provider Arrest Suboxone Xanax