Five charged with running Baltimore County pill mill

Healthy Life Medical Group wrote prescriptions for vast amounts of opiates

(Baltimore County Police…)
September 12, 2014|By Ian Duncan | The Baltimore Sun

Gerald Wiseberg makes for an unlikely drug kingpin, but federal authorities say the 81-year-old Korean War veteran helped run an operation that doled out vast amounts of powerful prescription painkillers.

Wiseberg and his business partners opened a clinic in Baltimore County in early 2011, soon after the Drug Enforcement Administration raided a similar operation he ran in Florida. Wiseberg's office here attracted droves of former customers from other states, according to a federal indictment that was unsealed Friday charging them with a drug conspiracy.

Prescription opiates have become a popular alternative to heroin, and the charges highlight what experts say is the whack-a-mole character of illegal dispensaries. As various states launch crackdowns, these clinics move their shops and addicts follow, medical experts say.

In many cases, even high-volume opiate operations look like legitimate medical businesses with properly licensed physicians signing off on prescriptions. But authorities say these doctors pose a threat similar to drug dealers on the street.

"Medical professionals who distribute oxycodone without valid medical need place users in grave danger," U.S. Attorney Rod J. Rosenstein said in a statement. "Pharmaceutical pills can be just as harmful as illegal drugs when they are used without proper oversight."

In addition to Wiseberg, Michael Resnick and his wife, Alina Margulis, and doctors William Crittenden and Daniel Alexander were charged in the case.

A lawyer representing Wiseberg in a separate case in New York said that he had not seen the new indictment but that pain clinics like those run by his client have been unfairly targeted by the DEA. Wiseberg has not been jailed and is awaiting a court hearing.

Attorneys for the other defendants or their family members either could not be reached or declined to comment Friday.

New Yorkers Resnick, 53, and Margulis, 48, traveled to Deerfield Beach, a small coastal city in Florida, to lay the groundwork for opening the pain clinic. They met with Wiseberg to learn how to operate one, according to the indictment.

In February 2011, agents raided Wiseberg's Florida operation as part of a statewide crackdown, but the trio's plan to set up in Baltimore County was already under way. They opened Healthy Life Medical Group that March, authorities say. Wiseberg was not charged in connection with the Florida clinic.

In Maryland, Wiseberg signed up as co-owner and a $12,000-a-month consultant, while Margulis and Resnick handled the day-to-day operation of the clinic. They started working out of an Owings Mills office before moving to a larger space in Timonium.

Healthy Life hired Crittenden, who served as medical director, and a mix of other doctors and physician assistants to see customers and write prescriptions, according to the indictment.

Customers flocked to the clinic, the majority coming from other states, including Kentucky, to get oxycodone and alprazolam (the generic name for Xanax), according to the charges. The customers would gather in rowdy crowds outside the clinics, and some people slept in cars nearby, according to an investigation by the Maryland Board of Physicians.

In a single year, 2,423 customers at Healthy Life were prescribed a total of 1.4 million oxycodone pills that collectively weighed 31 kilograms, according to the indictment. The clinic made at least $2 million in that time, authorities say, charging customers $300 in cash for a first appointment and $250 for each subsequent visit.

The clinic took steps to appear legitimate, according to the indictment. It referred customers to an all-cash MRI provider to make it appear that the patients had legitimate pain, informants told investigators.

Customers were also required to undergo urine tests, so it looked as if the clinic was screening for drug abusers. But authorities say pills were prescribed whatever the outcome of the scans or tests.

Customers were also asked to complete a form that included the question: "Do you now or have you ever worked for a Federal, State or Local Government Agency?" according to the indictment. Investigators wrote that the question was designed to ferret out undercover police.

An informant tipped the DEA to the clinic soon after it opened, and the flood of out-of-state residents trying to fill prescriptions for opiates attracted the attention of nearby pharmacists, according to a search warrant application filed in the case.

Baltimore County detectives quickly turned the pill shoppers into informants. A number explained that authorities in Kentucky had made it difficult to get hold of high doses of prescription opiates, so they turned to Wiseberg's operation in Florida, according to the search warrant.

Until recently, Kentucky had one of the highest rates of prescription opiate abuse in the nation, but after it started a system to track the drugs, it fell to 31st. Maryland was one of the last states to begin using such a system.

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