Two local medical professionals have been indicted by a federal grand jury for their alleged participation in illegally prescribing and dispensing opioids and other dangerous narcotic and health care fraud schemes.

Tullahoma nurse practitioner Jonathan White, 49, and Manchester doctor Harrison Yang, 75, are among 17 medical professionals in Middle and Eastern Tennessee facing charges.

White is one of nine medical professionals facing charges in the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Tennessee, according to U.S. Attorney Don Cochran for the Middle District.

Yang is one of eight individuals charged in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Tennessee, according to Attorney General William P. Barr and Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Alex M. Azar III.

The charges are the result of the efforts of the Department of Justice Criminal Division’s Appalachian Regional Prescription Opioid Strike Force.

The enforcement actions announced Wednesday include charges against 60 defendants across 11 federal districts in six states, including Alabama, Kentucky, Ohio, Tennessee, Virginia and West Virginia, and included 54 medical professionals. 

The charges announced involve individuals contributing to the opioid epidemic, with a particular focus on medical professionals involved in the unlawful distribution of opioids and other prescription narcotics. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, approximately 115 Americans die every day of an opioid-related overdose.

 

Middle Tennessee District

White, Brian Richey, 37, of Cookeville, and Daniel Seeley, 58, of Batesville, Mississippi, all nurse practitioners, were each indicted on three counts of health care fraud and one count of conspiracy to commit healthcare fraud.

 According to the indictment, Richey, Seeley and White were employed by MedManagement Inc., which managed Pain MD located in Franklin. Pain MD operated pain and wellness clinics throughout Middle Tennessee, North Carolina and Virginia.  Between 2010 and continuing through 2015, the indictment alleges that Richey, Seeley and White provided services to patients, namely “Tendon Origin Injections,” which were neither medically necessary nor anatomically possible and provided medically unnecessary durable medical equipment and then submitted fraudulent claims to Medicare, Medicaid and TRICARE.

The indictment further alleges that Richey, Seely and White trained other providers on methods to increase productivity, including how to control the patient and allow them to treat patients with such medically unnecessary injections and threatening to dismiss them as patients and stop writing prescriptions for narcotic pain medication if they did not comply.

According to the indictment, Richey, Seeley, White and others submitted more than $3.5 million in false claims to Medicare, Medicaid and TRICARE.

“The indictments announced today are the culmination of many months of meticulous investigation and another example of our commitment to hold those accountable who perpetuate the opioid crisis in our nation,” said U.S. Attorney Don Cochran.  “I commend our law enforcement partners and prosecutors for their extraordinary efforts in bringing these cases. Our work is not done and we will continue our enforcement efforts without regard for who a person is or what position they may hold.”

Those also charged in the Middle District of Tennessee include:

Dr. Darrell R. Rinehart, 63, of Indianapolis, Indiana, formerly of Columbia, was indicted on 19 counts of prescribing a Schedule II controlled substance outside the usual course of professional practice and without a legitimate medical purpose, between Dec. 4, 2014 and Jan. 21, 2016. 

Dr. Bowdoin G. Smith, 64, of Carthage, was indicted on two counts of prescribing a Schedule II controlled substance outside the usual course of professional practice and without a legitimate medical purpose, in January and February 2019. 

Dr. Lawrence J. Valdez, 50, of Hendersonville, was indicted on 18 counts of prescribing a Schedule II controlled substance outside the usual course of professional practice and without a legitimate medical purpose, between June 2016 and March 2017.

Dr. Timothy Abbott, 62, of Nashville, a podiatrist, was indicted on seven counts of prescribing a Schedule II controlled substance outside the usual course of professional practice and without a legitimate medical purpose, between January 2015 and January 2019.

Heather Marks, 36, of Murfreesboro, a nurse practitioner, was indicted on four counts of prescribing a Schedule II controlled substance outside the usual course of professional practice and without a legitimate medical purpose, between December 2016 and February 2018.

John Polston, 58, of Tompkinsville, Kentucky, was indicted on 21 counts of dispensing Schedule II and Schedule IV controlled substances, outside the usual course of professional practice and without a legitimate medical purpose, between April 27, 2017 and December 6, 2017. 

 

Eastern Tennessee District

Yang was indicted by a federal grand jury Tuesday, April 16, on health care fraud violations. No additional information about the Eastern District indictment was released.

The case was investigated by the FBI, HHS-OIG, DEA and TBI. Assistant U.S. Attorney Anne-Marie Svolto, along with DOJ Trial Attorneys Drew Bradylyons and Louis Manzo, will represent the United States in court proceedings.

In the Eastern region strike force takedown, five doctors, a nurse practitioner, a physician’s assistant and an office manager were charged in four cases.

Those also charged in the Eastern District of Tennessee include:

Dr. Charles Brooks, 61, of Maryville, charged with one count of conspiracy to distribute Schedule III, IV and V drugs as well as one count of health care fraud for aiding and abetting a false statement related to health care matters.

Dr. Stephen Mynatt, 64, of Knoxville, and Dr. David Newman, 58, of Maryville, charged with conspiracy to distribute Schedule II controlled drugs. Mynatt was also charged with two counts of distribution of Schedule II drugs. Both Mynatt and Newman were affiliated with Tennessee Valley Pain Specialists.

Dr. Henry Babenco, 58, of Paducah, Kentucky; Sharon Naylor, 53, of Jacksboro; Alicia Taylor, 29, of Oneida; and Gregory Madron, 54, of Jacksboro, charged with conspiracy to distribute Schedule II controlled drugs. Naylor and Babenco were also charged with money laundering. Babenco, Naylor, Taylor and Madron were all associated with LaFollette Wellness Center.

 

Appalachian Regional Prescription Opioid Strike Force

“Unfortunately, the Appalachian Region, which includes the Eastern District of Tennessee, is experiencing a surge in drug abuse and overdose related deaths,” said U.S. Attorney J. Douglas Overbey on Wednesday. “Today is an example of how our office is working with our law enforcement partners in the Appalachian Regional Prescription Opioid Strike Force to identify and prosecute dishonest medical professionals and others engaged in health care fraud schemes involving illegal prescription, distribution, possession and use of opioids.”

 “Today’s arrests clearly and tragically illustrate these so-called medical professionals were not legitimately assisting their patients - they were contributing to the opioid crisis epidemic that has destroyed families and taken so many lives,” said Troy Sowers, special agent in charge, FBI Knoxville Division on Wednesday. “Not only were they engaging in criminal behavior, they were profiting from the addiction and pain of unsuspecting victims. Working alongside our partners, HHS, DEA, TBI, THP, and many other state and local agencies, we will continue to vigorously pursue anyone involved in trafficking opioids in this country while protecting the public’s health and welfare.”

 

Department of Health and Human Services

In addition, HHS announced Wednesday that since June 2018, it has excluded over 2,000 individuals from participation in Medicare, Medicaid and all other federal health care programs, which includes more than 650 providers excluded for conduct related to opioid diversion and abuse.

Since July 2017, DEA has issued 31 immediate suspension orders, 129 orders to show cause, and received 1386 surrenders for cause nationwide for violations of the Controlled Substances Act.

 

Victim resources

For any patients impacted by the law enforcement operations, DOJ, DEA, HHS-OIG, HHS’ Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, CDC’s Opioid Rapid Response Team and all five state departments of health are deploying federal and state-level strategies to address patient harm and insure continuity of care.

Additional information regarding available treatment programs in Tennessee and where patients can turn for assistance is available by calling 1-855-CRISIS-1.

If you, a family member, friend or loved one believe you may be a victim in any of these cases or in connection with any charged defendant, visit the following website for additional information: https://www.justice.gov/criminal-vns/case/ARPO.

Kelly Lapczynski can be reached by email at klapczynski@tullahomanews.com.