DEA dismantles alleged cash for pills scheme

CARMEL, Ind. (WISH) — Four Central Indiana doctors and seven of their staff members were arrested Friday, accused of illegally prescribing a form of synthetic heroin to thousands of patients at their clinics over the last three years.

Agents from the Drug Enforcement Administration, along with the Hamilton County-Boone County Drug Task Force, and officers from several local departments raided five clinics simultaneously beginning at 4:30am Friday. The raids followed a nine-month investigation by the agencies into clinics run the Drug Opiate Recovery Network, or DORN, and Living Life Clean, or LLC.

Agents seized documents, computers and other evidence from the following clinics:

• 23 East Main Street, Suite 200, Carmel
• 813 Westfield Boulevard, Suite 100, Noblesville
• 121 North High Street, Muncie
• 3827 South LaFountain, Kokomo
• 801 Airport Road, Centerville

Four doctors were arrested at their homes during the raids:

(Photos Provided by Howard County Sheriff's Office)  Row 1: Ronald Vierk, Derek Tislow, Yvonne Morgan and Larry Ley Row 2: Jessica Calahan, Cassy Bratcher, George Agapios and Luella Bangura
(Photos Provided by Howard County Sheriff’s Office)
Row 1: Ronald Vierk, Derek Tislow, Yvonne Morgan and Larry Ley
Row 2: Jessica Calahan, Cassy Bratcher, George Agapios and Luella Bangura

• Dr. Larry J. Ley, Noblesville
• Dr. George Agapios, Fishers
• Dr. Ronald Vierk, Richmond
• Dr. Luella Bangura, Lafayette

In addition, the following staff members were also arrested, according to court records:

• Derek Tislow, Avon
• Andrew Dollard, Carmel
• Cassy Linn Bratcher, Carmel
• Yvonne Morgan, Eaton, OH
• Jessica Callahan, Muncie
• Eric Ley, Noblesville
• Felicia Reid, Carmel

Investigators said Friday that they began receiving complaints about DORN and LLC clinics in 2011.

“These complaints consisted of Dr. Ley providing prescriptions for Suboxone as a sole means to treat patients from opiate addictions. Additionally, the complaints alleged that the patients received no medical exam, no physical or mental evaluation, and were asked to provide no medical history,” said Hamilton County-Boone County Drug Task Force Major Aaron Dietz.

Prosecutors allege that Dr. Ley alone wrote more than 28,000 prescriptions for Suboxone from 2011-2013, pocketing around $240,000 in fees in the process. Ley also treated approximately 3,675 patients during that time, court documents allege. Federal law limits physicians to the treatment of no more than 100 patients at a time.

Dietz said those numbers were unmatched anywhere else in Indiana.

“I would classify [Ley] as the ringleader for our area, our state. He was very significant. I’d classify it as the Pablo Escobar of Suboxone prescriptions of Indiana, if you will. One of a kind,” he said.

Ley, who “voluntarily surrendered his medical license” in 1995 due to alcohol dependence, told patients to see him every two weeks, according to court documents. His license was reinstated in 2002 and remained in good standing Friday.

But, in some cases, investigators said patients never actually saw a doctor—particularly if they sought a refill for a Suboxone prescription.

“The standard fee was either $120 or $160, and the word would get out that the DORN clinic was an easy provider for Suboxone,” said Indianapolis Drug Enforcement Agency Special Agent-in-Charge Dennis Wichern. “We also ran 7 undercovers on 27 undercover visits into this. There was no physical, no blood pressure, no blood work, no anything like that to get these prescriptions. [It was] cash and carry.”

“One of the undercover visits, of the 27 undercover visits, took only 39 seconds,” Dietz added. “Others lasted only a few minutes.”

In some cases, patients would simply get their refill prescriptions handed to them by a staff member, prosecutors said. That staff included Carmel attorney Andrew Dollard, who represented DORN clinics, prosecutors said. Dollars ran unsuccessfully as a Republican candidate for Hamilton County Council earlier this year.

Court documents also allege Ley and the other doctors opened the clinics at odd hours, often to a steady stream of patients already waiting.

“I would get here early some days, and there would be folks waiting, lined up,” said John Kouns, who works in the same building as the Carmel DORN clinic. “The office door would be locked, and they’d approach you and say: do you know when the office opens? And, we’ve seen folks at all hours of the day and night, kind of hanging outside the clinic.”

“Any given morning, there was usually quite a few cars in the parking lot, people kind of loitering, waiting outside the office,” agreed Chris Blackburn, who also works in the building. “They were usually in and out pretty quick.”

A Kokomo Police officer who was hired to provide off-duty security told federal agents he once saw a line he estimated to be 100 people outside the clinic. He quit the job in November 2013, calling the clinic “sketchy,” according to court filings.

That turnover allowed the clinics to make money very quickly, Wichern said.

“In a four hour period, we counted approximately 120 people on one Saturday. At $120 apiece, I think the math is over $10,000 in cash in a four hour period,” he said.

Investigators are also looking into several patient deaths to see if they can be definitively connected to the clinics, Wichern said. No charges have been filed relating to those deaths.

Each of the doctors faces multiple counts of felony dealing in a schedule III controlled substance as well as felony counts of corrupt business influence. The charges were filed Friday in Hamilton and Howard Counties.

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