Operators and Pain Clinics Arrested for Illegally Dispensing

Operators of Three Texas Pharmacies and Two Pain Clinics Arrested for Illegally Dispensing Nearly Four Million Opioid Pills

(STL.News) Three Houston-area pharmacists, a doctor, and a pharmacy technician have been arrested for allegedly running three pharmacies and two clinics as “pill mills;” distributing hydrocodone, oxycodone, and other controlled drugs without a legitimate medical purpose.

According to court documents, since January 2018, Chrisco Pharmacy (Chrisco), Keystone Pharmacy (Keystone), and Peoples Pharmacy (Peoples) illegally dispensed nearly four million pills of the Schedule II opioids hydrocodone and oxycodone.  Keystone owner and pharmacist-in-charge Anthony Obute, 46, of Houston, was indicted yesterday in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Texas for illegally distributing and dispensing hydrocodone and the Schedule IV muscle relaxer carisoprodol.  According to the filed criminal complaint leading to Obute’s arrest on Dec. 2, Obute operated Keystone as a pill mill, illegally distributing hydrocodone and oxycodone.

The complaint further alleges that from about September 2018 to about September 2020, Obute directed Keystone to purchase around 1.1 million of the highest-strength, short-acting hydrocodone and oxycodone pills commercially available, which he then sold to so-called “crew leaders,” or drug traffickers who pay individuals to pose as patients in order to obtain pills to sell onto the black market.

Ophelia Emeakoroha, 50, of Pearland, was arrested on Dec. 2 on a criminal complaint, filed in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Texas, alleging that Emeakoroha, the pharmacist-in-charge at Peoples, illegally distributed and dispensed hydrocodone and oxycodone.  According to court documents, from about Jan. 1, 2019, to about Dec. 31, 2019, Emeakoroha caused Peoples to purchase around 250,000 of the highest-strength, short-acting hydrocodone and oxycodone pills commercially available, which she then sold to crew leaders in a scheme similar to Keystone’s.

Shivarajpur Ravi, M.D., 65, of Houston, was arrested on Dec. 2 on a criminal complaint, filed in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Texas, alleging that he operated two pill-mill clinics in the Houston area, which he used to illegally distribute and dispense hydrocodone and carisoprodol.  According to court documents, undercover officers obtained illegitimate prescriptions from Ravi, once in 2020 at his clinic operating out of 12555 Ste. B Gulf Freeway in Houston, and again at a new clinic located at 3333 Bayshore Dr., Ste. 250, Pasadena, which he opened in 2021.  The papers detail how crew leaders were observed paying for groups of patients, filling out their paperwork, and coaching them on what to say to the doctor as they waited to be seen.  The 2020 purported consult with Ravi is alleged to have lasted less than two minutes, after which officers had the prescription filled at Keystone.  In both cases, the visit ended with Ravi prescribing large quantities of hydrocodone and carisoprodol.

A few weeks prior to the arrests of Obute, Emeakoroha, and Ravi, Christopher Obaze, 61, of Richmond, and Eric Tubbe, 36, of Rosenberg, were arrested on charges brought in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Texas related to their alleged illicit operation of Chrisco as a pill mill.  The eight-count indictment alleged that in doing so, Obaze and Tubbe conspired to illegally distribute and dispense hydrocodone and oxycodone, maintained Chrisco as a drug-involved premises in proximity to a facility for children, and laundered their ill-gotten gains, using the proceeds to promote the enterprise, depositing cash in amounts below $10,000 to avoid bank reporting requirements, and transferring the proceeds through numerous accounts to obscure the funds’ origins.

Obaze was also charged with tax crimes.  According to court documents, from around January 2018, to around October 2021, Obaze was the pharmacist-in-charge and Tubbe was a pharmacy technician at Chrisco, which the two men used as a front to purchase and then illegally sell around 2.25 million of the highest-strength short-acting hydrocodone and oxycodone pills commercially available.  The indictment alleges that Obaze and Tubbe sold the pills, in bulk, directly to drug traffickers, without the involvement of doctors, prescriptions, or patients.

Federal charges related to the illegal distribution of Schedule II opioids like hydrocodone and oxycodone, which all of the indicted defendants face, carry statutory maximums of 20 years in prison.  Obaze and Tubbe are both charged with money laundering crimes that carry statutory maximums of 10 and 20 years in prison, while Obaze’s tax charges carry a statutory maximum of three years.  A federal district court judge will determine any sentence after considering the U.S. Sentencing Guidelines and other statutory factors.

Assistant Attorney General Kenneth A. Polite Jr. of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division; Administrator Anne Milgram of the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA); Acting Assistant Director Jay Greenberg of the FBI’s Criminal Investigative Division; Assistant Special Agent in Charge Ramsey E. Covington of the IRS Criminal Investigation (IRS-CI) Houston Field Office; Acting Special Agent in Charge Conrad Barnett of U.S. Postal Service Office of Inspector General (USPS-OIG); Acting Inspector in Charge Dana Carter of the U.S. Postal Inspection Service, Houston Division; Texas Attorney General Office’s Medicare Fraud Control Unit (MFCU); and Houston Police Department (HPD) made the announcement.

The DEA, HPD, FBI, MFCU, IRS-CI, USPS-OIG, and U.S. Postal Inspection Service are investigating the cases.

Trial Attorney Drew Pennebaker of the Criminal Division’s Fraud Section is prosecuting the cases.

Indictments and criminal complaints are merely allegations and all defendants are presumed innocent until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt in a court of law.

SOURCE: USDOJ.Today