CHARLESTON — A South Williamson, Ky. woman who served as the office manager of the Mountain Medical Care Center (Williamson Wellness Center), which was located on Third Avenue in Williamson, entered a guilty plea in U.S. Federal Court on Tuesday to charges of conspiring to misuse a physician’s Federal Drug Registration number who is accused of operating a “pill mill” for well over five years.
While being questioned in court by federal prosecutors on Tuesday, Miller is said to have admitted to “reluctantly helping sell drug prescriptions illegally”. Investigators allege the Mingo County clinic provided prescriptions for cash ($450 cash for the initial visit and $150 cash for each follow-up appt.) to people with no legitimate need for them. Miller testified that she helped provide illegal prescriptions for the prescription painkiller Hydrocodone and Xanax, which is taken for anxiety and depression, in February of 2010. A raid on the facility occurred the following month and the clinic never reopened.
Miller also said Dr. William Ryckman, one of the physicians who was her employers and who was sentenced to 6 months in prison and fined $5,000 one year ago for fraudulently prescribing painkillers and other medications, assured her she was not breaking the law, and also claimed that he threatened to “fire her if she did not cooperate”.
After repeated questions from U.S. District Judge John Copenhaver, Miller allegedly admitted that she knew her actions were illegal but continued to do perform them. Previous information provided prior to Miller’s plea hearing by the federal prosecutor’s office stated that $475,000 in cash that was located in a safe inside the Miller’s home during the raid would be forfeited by the defendant and her husband, John J. Miller, but validation of this act has not been released thus far.
The raid was conducted by federal officials and the West Virginia State Police three years ago this month, after numerous complaints had been made to the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) about the Wellness Center and the large amount of patients that, as described by investigating officers, was similar to “herding cattle through a process”.
Doctors William Ryckman, J. Victorio Teleron, Diana Shafer and Kathryn Hoover are alleged to have made millions of dollars selling prescription in exchange for cash. At the time the facility was still in business, Miller, Nurse Practitioner Camille Helsel and other employees working at the clinic were accused of conspiring with the physicians to unlawfully distribute and obtain controlled substances as well as committing workers compensation, Medicare and Medicaid fraud.
Hoover, the primary physician for the clinic, did not stand trial and was never formerly charged in this case, having fled the U.S. to a privately owned island in the Bahamas and has continued to refuse to return of her own free will, according to federal prosecutors. No charges to date have been filed against Teleron.
Records released during this investigation show that between the dates of December 2002 and January, 2010, Dr. Hoover prescribed more controlled substances than any other practicing physician within the State of WV. A total of 355,132 such prescriptions were issued under Hoover’s DEA number, and those numbers do not include all of the prescriptions written by her or her office staff that was filled in Kentucky or other states.
The federal investigation was assisted by information provided by former employees of the clinic, previous patients, undercover officers and others. Dr. Donald Kiser, a physician who at one time worked for Dr. Hoover, gave testimony about how the prescriptions were called into pharmacies and when asked why they were called in instead of hand written, he allegedly told investigators that “a physician could not physically write out all of those prescriptions without getting hand fatigue.” The clinic also had, according to Kiser, a money counting machine located inside one of the offices to accommodate the large amount of cash that was taken in on any given day. Video surveillance equipment was also located in several of the exam rooms. Kiser spent time in federal prison after being convicted for similar crimes in another state.
Miller will be sentenced in U.S. Federal Court in Huntington, on June 18th.