ATLANTA – A former Monroe doctor is one of four people sentence this month to prison time for illegally prescribing painkillers to known addicts and drug dealers at three pain clinics in the Atlanta area.
According to a press release from the Northern District of the U.S. Attorney’s office, Dr. Nevorn Askari, 61, of Monroe, was sentenced on June 13, 2017, to serve five years and six months in prison, followed by three years of supervised release. Askari pleaded guilty on Feb. 16, 2017, to her involvement in a drug trafficking conspiracy and involvement in operating the AMARC “Pill Mills.” Askari previously practiced pediatric care in Monroe at 1041 Spring Street.
Sentenced with Askari were Godfrey, 61, and his wife, Bona, 54, Alonzo, of Alpharetta and Dr. William Richardson. Godfrey Alonza was sentenced to serve 12 years in prison followed by three years of supervised release for charges related to a drug trafficking conspiracy and money laundering conspiracy and his wife received eight years in prison followed by three years of supervised release for the drug trafficking conspiracy. Williams, 63, of Atlanta, received four years in prison followed by three years of supervised release after pleading guilty to involvement in the conspiracy.
The four were indicted in January 2013 on these charges.
The US Attorney’s office reported that both Askari and Richardson voluntarily surrendered their medical licenses to the Georgia Composite Board of Medicine and, as part of their sentences, Godfrey and Bona Ilonzo were ordered to also forfeit $20,000 in seized funds, and received personal money judgements each of $1.5 million. In a trail, two other defendants, Rosemary Ofume and Donatus Iriele, were convicted on federal drug and money laundering charges for illegally dispensing controlled narcotics to AMARC customers. They will be sentenced next month.
This case was investigated by the Drug Enforcement Administration and Internal Revenue Service Criminal Investigation. Assistant U.S. Attorneys Laurel Boatright, Cassandra Schansman, and Michael Brown prosecuted the case.
“The roots of our current heroin and fentanyl crisis are found in the opiate abuse epidemic,” U.S. Attorney John Horn said in the release announcing the sentences. “Like many other states, Georgia continues to experience the devastating toll of this epidemic on its citizens. Yet, these defendants willingly exploited desperate drug addicts by feeding their addictions in order to turn a profit.”
“These drug traffickers, dressed in white lab coats, can no longer cause damage to those addicted to pain medicine. These rogue “medical field” employees will now have plenty of time to reflect on the damages they have caused while serving their sentences in federal prison. DEA and our state and local partners remain committed to keeping our communities safe,” said Dan Salter, Special Agent in Charge of the Drug Enforcement Administration, Atlanta Field Division.
“The diversion of dangerous prescription drugs is a public health epidemic that is crippling communities throughout the country,” Acting Special Agent in Charge James E. Dorsey added in the release. “It makes matters much worse when the individuals responsible for medical care are also illegally supplying lethal drugs. IRS Criminal Investigation will continue to work with our partners to dismantle these deadly drug trafficking organizations and seek justice for the harm caused to the community”
Horn released the following information that was presented in court in relation to the charges:
In May 2009, agents of the Tactical Diversion Squad of the DEA learned that doctors at the AMARC clinic in Atlanta, Georgia, were prescribing pain pills outside the bounds of legitimate medical practice to drug addicts and drug dealers. Subsequently, DEA, working with IRS and officers from other state and local agencies, learned that Godfrey Ilonzo financed and operated at least eight clinics in the Atlanta area under the “AMARC” name, including the pain clinic in Atlanta and two other pain clinics under different names; one in Tyrone, Georgia, and one other in Atlanta.
Bona Ilonzo (Godfrey Ilonzo’s wife) served as the office manager at the main AMARC pain clinic. At various times, Askari and Richardson served as the primary doctors for the AMARC pain clinics. Law enforcement also learned that Rosemary Ofume and Donatus Iriele operated Medicine Center Pharmacy in Atlanta, and illegitimately dispensed pain pills to AMARC customers.
The Ilonzos asked Dr. Askari and Dr. Richardson to prescribe Oxycodone pills and other opiates to addicts and distributors. Many of those customers traveled to the AMARC clinics from counties throughout Georgia and from other states (including Alabama and Ohio). Customers waited for hours at one AMARC pain clinic and paid cash to receive prescriptions for Oxycodone/Hydrocodone, Xanax, and Soma (the “holy trinity”) for resale on the street. Askari and Richardson issued prescriptions for medically inappropriate and potentially lethal combinations of Oxycodone, Alprazolam, Hydrocodone, and other controlled substances without conducting adequate medical examinations. After seeing a patient once, Askari would repeatedly “pre-sign” prescriptions for the same amounts and types of controlled substances without ever seeing the patient again in-person, while falsely indicating in the patient’s file that she had conducted an in-person examination of the patient.
After customers received illegitimate prescriptions from AMARC, clinic staff told customers to fill their prescriptions across the street at a pharmacy operated by Ofume and Iriele. Employees at the AMARC clinics and pharmacy received discounts and special treatment, including free office visits and reduced prices for pills dispensed at the pharmacy.
During the course of the conspiracy, the AMARC clinics generated more than $3 million dollars from unlawful prescriptions. Godfrey and Bona Ilonzo used that money to recruit additional physicians and patients to the AMARC pain clinics, open additional clinics under the “AMARC” name, purchase property, and send their children to expensive private schools.
The U.S. Attorney’s Office in Atlanta recommends parents and children learn about the dangers of drugs at the following web site www.justthinktwice.gov.