13 indicted in drug ring in Southwest Baltimore

Prescription pills sold from carwash, U.S. says

December 17, 2003|By Gail Gibson | Gail Gibson,SUN STAFF

Federal authorities said yesterday that they dismantled a major prescription drug ring that operated from a Southwest Baltimore carwash and used fake doctor's orders to generate millions of dollars in street sales of OxyContin, Percocet and Xanax over the past four years.

The charges, detailed in a 15-count federal indictment against 13 city residents, marked one of the most significant cases involving OxyContin to reach Baltimore, where heroin and cocaine have continued to dominate the illegal drug market even as suburban and rural areas have seen sharp increases in the illegal sale and use of the potent painkiller.

Maryland U.S. Attorney Thomas M. DiBiagio said at a news conference yesterday that the charges could help curb the illegal prescription pill trade, a black-market business that he said feeds on other criminal activity.

"It does cause a number of associated crimes," DiBiagio said. "How are people getting the money to buy these drugs? I'll tell you exactly what they're doing -- they're stealing your car, they're breaking into your house, they're robbing you on the street."

The indictment alleges that the group created fraudulent prescriptions using names and other pharmacy information stolen from area doctors. It says John Lee Fulton Sr., 44, William Henry Muldrow, 59, and Ricardo James Womble, 51, then recruited others to fill the fake prescriptions at pharmacies across Central Maryland.

Authorities said no physicians were implicated in the alleged scheme.

Named in the indictment as so-called runners for the operation were: April Moore, 36; Sherry Lyn Heavel, 31; Louis Hammond, 65; Melvin Williams, 44; Jerry Lewis Pugh, 49; Larry Hall, 54; Curtis Sample, 49; Michelle Scott, 38; and Anthony Cunningham, 45. The indictment also referred to one unnamed male defendant.

All the defendants face drug trafficking conspiracy charges that carry a maximum sentence of 40 years in prison. Seven also are charged with health care fraud and five were charged with identity theft for using U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration license numbers issued to prescribing physicians.

Two defendants, Muldrow and Womble, are charged with illegally possessing firearms as convicted felons. Muldrow also is charged with using a firearm as part of the drug conspiracy.

The indictment described a relatively straightforward scheme, in which runners routinely filled bogus prescriptions for as many as 100 or more tablets at a time of drugs including OxyContin, Percocet, Klonopin and Xanax, and then turned the drugs over to Fulton, Muldrow and Womble for resale on the street.

OxyContin could bring between 50 cents and $1.50 per milligram -- for tablets sold in strengths ranging from 10 milligrams to 80 milligrams.

The rise in illegal use of OxyContin over the past three years has been most pronounced in rural areas across the Southeast. But it has made inroads in urban areas. In the Baltimore area last year, the number of reports of abuse of prescription painkillers, including OxyContin, rose by 47 percent, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

DiBiagio said the Baltimore ring was responsible for as many as 2,500 fake prescriptions, many paid for with stolen or fraudulently purchased Medicaid cards. The scheme meant a $400,000 loss to the Medicaid system, DiBiagio said, and generated as much as $4 million in street sales for the organization.

The indictment said the trafficking dated to at least February 1999. For the past year, the indictment said, the group used a business known as The Rack Room Hand Car Wash, Detailing and Game Room, at 1228 Hollins St., to disguise the operation and its profits.

For at least a two-month period this fall, undercover federal agents apparently served as the group's landlords. The indictment notes that Muldrow and Womble discussed rent for their business address with an undercover agent Sept. 23. About two weeks later, on Oct. 7, Womble signed a lease agreement.

The indictment suggests that over the next month, the Rack Room was under surveillance. The charging document describes various individuals as counting and selling pills from the establishment; it also identifies meetings between defendants at the business where they would prepare fraudulent prescriptions and discuss the illegal operation. Authorities shut down the business last month.

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