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UPDATE: Many Speak Out as Pill Mill Doctor Sentenced to Four Life Terms

By: The Associated Press, Andrew Colegrove Email
By: The Associated Press, Andrew Colegrove Email

UPDATE 2/14/12 @ 11 p.m.
CINCINNATI, Ohio (WSAZ) -- A doctor convicted of distributing pills that led to the overdose deaths of four people received a prison sentence Tuesday that sets precedent in the state of Ohio.

Dr. Paul Volkman of Chicago was sentenced Tuesday to four life terms in prison.

Last year he was convicted of the deaths that happened between 2003 and 2005. During that time, Volkman ran Ohio clinics in Portsmouth, South Point and Chillicothe.

We were not expecting such a harsh sentence; Volkman was facing the possibility of 20 years.

Members of the Solace group in Scioto County were thrilled when they heard about Volkman's sentence.

"I wanted to jump up and down for joy,” Solace member Barbara Howard said. “It was a big, major victory for Ohio."

The Solace group is made of people who've lost loved ones to prescription drug abuse. They say Volkman’s punishment signifies a major shift in the ongoing battle against those who operate pill mills.

"Traditionally what we've seen with these physicians is they get very little prison time if any, and as a consequence, they've just become fearless," Solace member Lisa Roberts said. "We're really happy to see that the trend has changed."

On Monday, Volkman stood in front of the judge who was preparing to sentence him and demanded that he be released from jail. Instead, a judge sent a sentencing message to pill mill operators everywhere.

Federal prosecutors say for years, this dealer of death bought more oxycodone than any doctor nationwide. They say he prescribed millions of dosages not for pain - but pure profit.

Prosecutors and the DEA, leaving the U.S. Courthouse in Cincinnati, said Volkman created a lethal health epidemic in southern Ohio. The families of those who died in his pills-for-profit conspiracy say he made sick people sicker, or dead, with no regard for human life.

U.S. Attorney Adam Wright spoke of “a lack of remorse and a complete disregard for his patients well being."

Portsmouth Police Chief Charles Horner said, "They came from as far away as Michigan, Texas, Tennessee, Kentucky -- clearly a magnet for a large part of the east coast of the United States.”

Having conducted a 2006 raid of Volkman's house turned clinic, Horner says the four life sentences will send deadly impact shock waves through the pill mill world

“The convicted felons partnering with doctors in the business of trafficking in prescription drugs, they are getting a clear message that if you do this, we're coming after you," Horner said.

Investigators say security at Volkman's clinics included guns, ball bats and other weapons to maintain order.

We remember seeing jam-packed parking lots and streets around his clinics, with people literally stumbling in and out. It truly was an organized criminal conspiracy, which ended Tuesday.

Denise Huffman, another defendant in the case, was also sentenced Tuesday .

Huffman will spend more than 12 years in prison for her role in the conspiracy. She also faces three years of supervised release
after she serves her time.

Huffman pleaded guilty in 2010 to one count of operating
Tri-State Health Care and Pain Management as a place whose primary purpose was the illegal distribution of prescription drugs.

Her daughter, Alice Huffman, pleaded guilty to the same count
and was sentenced last year to five years in prison.



UPDATE 2/14/12 @ 5:35 p.m.
CINCINNATI, Ohio (WSAZ) -- A woman caught up in a prescription drug ring was sentenced in federal court Tuesday.

Denise Huffman was sentenced to just over 12-and-a-half years in connection with running Tri-State Health Care and Pain management.

Huffman and her daughter, Alice, each pleaded guilty in 2010 to one count of operating Tri-State Health Care and Pain Management as a place whose primary purpose was the illegal distribution of prescription drugs.

U.S. District Court Judge Sandra Beckwith in Cincinnati sentenced Alice Huffman to 60 months in prison back in 2011. Alice was also ordered to report to federal prison officials in about two months to begin her sentence.

After denying Denise Huffman's request, in 2010, to withdraw her guilty plea, Beckwith ordered a psychiatric evaluation. Beckwith placed Denise in the custody of the Bureau of Prisons for the purpose of conducting the evaluation, the results of which aren't expected for months.

According to Law Enforcement Coordinator Fred Alverson, the federal judge let out Denise to self-surrender. She was not given a date to surrender to the court.

Denise told the judge that she needs to see a doctor, according to Alverson.

She is supposed to report some time after the appointment.

Keep clicking on WSAZ.com for the latest information.



UPDATE 2/14/12
CINCINNATI, Ohio (WSAZ) -- A Chicago doctor who ran a pain clinic in Portsmouth, Ohio was sentenced Tuesday to four consecutive life terms in prison.

The 64-year-old doctor was convicted by a jury on May 10, 2011 of 18 crimes including four counts of illegal drug distribution that resulted in death. He received a life sentence on each of those counts.

Sentences on the other 13 counts range from 10 to 20 years and were ordered to be served concurrently.

Volkman was sentenced to an additional five years in prison to be served consecutively for possession of a firearm in furtherance of a drug trafficking crime and was ordered to forfeit $1.2 million.

The government presented 70 witnesses during the eight-week trial. Government witnesses included pharmacists who refused to fill prescriptions from Volkman, law enforcement agents and officers who investigated the deaths, Volkman's employees, individuals who received pills from Volkman, medical experts and family members of the victims. Evidence presented during the trial showed that Volkman prescribed and dispensed millions of dosages of various drugs including diazepam, hydrocodone, oxycodone, alprazolam and carisoprodol.

"Volkman was the physician at the center of a criminal scheme to distribute millions of controlled substances to hundreds of individuals in exchange for cash - a scheme that brought addiction, diversion, and death to southeastern Ohio and beyond," Assistant U.S. Attorneys Tim Oakley and Adam Wright wrote in a sentencing memorandum filed with the court. "During the course of this conspiracy, Volkman was the top physician purchaser of oxycodone in the country."

Volkman made weekly trips between Chicago and three locations in Portsmouth, Ohio and one location in Chillicothe, Ohio before task force investigators led by DEA Diversion investigators shut him down in 2006.

Customers paid between $125 and $200 cash per visit. After a brief visit with him, they received a prescription for pain medicine. The "clinics" opened their own dispensary in 2003 after local pharmacies refused to honor prescriptions Volkman wrote.

"Cooperative investigation by law enforcement, combined with the support of community groups and victims, are addressing the problem of addiction and illegal drug diversion," U.S. Attorney Stewart said. "Such united efforts must continue."

A day before sentencing, Volkman told a federal judge that the most appropriate punishment was immediate release from custody.

The doctor maintained his innocence, saying his treatment of patients was consistent with actions of a doctor, not a drug dealer, and demanded to be released from jail.

Volkman was implicated in the overdose deaths of eight other patients.



UPDATE 2/14/12 @ 7:57 a.m.
COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) -- A Chicago doctor convicted in the overdose deaths of four patients and implicated in eight more deaths faces up to 20 years in prison at sentencing Tuesday.

Dr. Paul Volkman maintains his innocence and after firing his attorneys has asked the judge to release him immediately.

The 64-year-old Volkman says his treatment of patients was consistent with the actions of a doctor, not a drug dealer.

The government says Volkman's illegal prescription painkiller prescriptions cut a swath of misery across southern Ohio.

They say he was motivated by greed, not any medical purpose.

Keep clicking on WSAZ.com for updated information.



UPDATE 2/13/12 @ 3 p.m.
COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) -- A Chicago doctor convicted of running a pill mill in southern Ohio is claiming he is innocent and demanding to be released from jail.

Dr. Paul Volkman says his treatment of patients was consistent
with actions of a doctor, not a drug dealer.

Monday, Volkman told a federal judge scheduled to sentence him Tuesday that the most appropriate punishment was immediate release from custody.

Volkman, who is facing 20 years in prison under federal
sentencing guidelines, is now representing himself after firing his attorneys because he says he was strongly dissatisfied with them.

Volkman was convicted last year of causing the deaths of four
patients who overdosed on pain pills.



UPDATE 2/13/12 @ 2:25 p.m.
COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) -- Lawyers for a Chicago doctor convicted of running a pill mill in southern Ohio want off the case, saying the doctor is too unhappy with them to continue.

The request raises questions about Tuesday's sentencing for Dr. Paul Volkman, who faces 20 years in prison for causing the death of four patients who overdosed on pain pills.

Volkman's attorneys said in a filing earlier this month the doctor has a strong distrust and dissatisfaction with their work. They say he wants them off the case and plans to represent himself.

Judge Sandra Beckwith has yet to rule on the motion.

Volkman also was convicted of eight other illegal distribution counts that prosecutors said resulted in fatal overdoses but did not leave enough evidence to convict him of the deaths.



UPDATE 11/17/11
COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) -- A judge has set a sentencing date for a Chicago doctor convicted of running a pill mill in southern Ohio and causing the death of four patients who overdosed.

Dr. Paul Volkman faces 20 years in prison on those four charges at his Feb. 14 sentencing in federal court in Cincinnati.

He also was convicted of eight other distribution counts that prosecutors said resulted in fatal overdoses but did not leave enough evidence to convict him of the deaths.

Volkman was found guilty in May of illegally prescribing Oxycodone, a painkiller that has been blamed for overdose deaths around the country.

Volkman declined to testify at the trial that saw 70 government witnesses, including pharmacists, police investigators, clinic employees and patients who received pills from Volkman.



UPDATE 11/8/11 @ 6:58 p.m.
COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) -- A judge on Tuesday sentenced a woman to five years in prison for her role at a southern Ohio pill mill linked to a dozen overdose deaths, while denying a motion by the woman's mother to withdraw her guilty plea in the same case.

Denise Huffman and her daughter, Alice Huffman, each pleaded guilty last year to one count of operating Tri-State Health Care and Pain Management as a place whose primary purpose was the illegal distribution of prescription drugs.

U.S. District Court Judge Sandra Beckwith in Cincinnati sentenced Alice Huffman to 60 months in prison and ordered her to report to federal prison officials in about two months to begin her sentence.

After denying Denise Huffman's request to withdraw her guilty plea, Beckwith ordered a psychiatric evaluation. Beckwith placed Denise Huffman in the custody of the Bureau of Prisons for the purpose of conducting the evaluation, the results of which aren't expected for months.

Denise Huffman was scheduled for sentencing with her daughter, then filed the motion to withdraw her plea late Monday.

Denise Huffman was "deeply confused and felt intimidated by the proceedings and the atmosphere of urgency present in the court" when she entered the plea a year ago, her lawyer, James Rion, said in the filing in federal court in Cincinnati.

In an earlier filing, Rion told the judge Denise Huffman takes responsibility for her actions.

"Ms. Huffman clearly has had trouble with addiction in her life, and in a way she is one of the victims of her own actions," the filing said.

Rion declined comment Tuesday.

Alice Huffman has blamed the older woman for her participation in the clinic, saying in court papers she was desperate for work and unable to stand up to her mother.

They both testified earlier this year against a Chicago doctor convicted of causing the death of four clinic patients who overdosed.

Dr. Paul Volkman was convicted on those four charges, as well as eight other distribution counts that prosecutors said resulted in fatal overdoses but did not leave enough evidence to convict him of the deaths.

He faces 20 years in prison. A sentencing date hasn't been set yet.

The Drug Enforcement Administration considers southern Ohio, where Volkman distributed the pills, one of the worst places in the country for prescription painkiller abuse. Accidental drug overdoses driven by such addictions have surpassed car accidents as the leading cause of accidental death in Ohio.

In each of the four deaths, Volkman was found guilty of illegally prescribing Oxycodone, a powerful painkiller that has been blamed for overdose deaths around the country.

A 2007 indictment alleged Volkman went to work at the Huffmans' clinic in 2003. The indictment said patients came from hundreds of miles away and were charged $125 to $200 in cash for visits to see a doctor.

Prosecutors said Volkman rarely, if ever, counseled patients on alternative treatments for pain, such as physical therapy, surgery or addiction counseling. Volkman denied the allegations and said he always acted in good faith.

Denise Huffman kept guns and bats at the clinic to maintain order among patients receiving treatment, according to court papers. Her daughter knew about the weapons but did what her mother told her and may have ignored what was happening at the clinic to keep her job, Alice Huffman's attorney, Richard Smith-Monahan, said in an August court filing. She was supporting three children by herself, including a handicapped daughter.

"The dynamic of a mother-daughter relationship ought to be one of trust, guidance, and positive support, not one where the parent involves the child in criminal conduct," Smith-Monahan wrote.

A message was left with Smith-Monahan Tuesday seeking comment on the sentencing.



UPDATE 5/10/11 @ 4:20 p.m.
CINCINNATI, Ohio (WSAZ) -- Many long grieving family members of pain pill overdose victims felt some relief and justice Tuesday.

On Monday, we saw the first pain clinic doctor in our region convicted of causing death by illegal prescription.

Now, we go inside the shocking world of Dr. Paul Volkman.

We conducted a Skype interview with one of the federal prosecutors in Cincinnati who helped convict Volkman of death by illegal prescriptions. We learned how Volkman -- for three years at his southern Ohio clinics -- led all doctors nationwide in dispensing millions of painkillers.

Prosecutor Adam Wright said, “He was also outpacing local pharmacies, and prescribing more drugs than CVS or Rite Aid. It was off the charts.”

Prosecutors and police say the security at Volkman's cash-only pain clinics -- highlighted handguns, ball bats -- all the trappings of an organized crime syndicate.

“The defendant bragged about how all the individuals working there had guns in their purses," Wright said. "He had a video monitoring system but no examination table.”

The Volkman case began with charges of killing 12 patients by overdose. After 10 weeks, the jury found the 64-year-old Chicago native guilty of four deaths.

“These were people who died days after the prescriptions -- some the same day," Wright said. "The first thing we did was inform the families of the verdict. Many feel that justice was done.”

This is precedent setting justice, putting suspected "dirty doctors" on notice nationwide.

Volkman was also found guilty of a gun crime, of operating a pill mill and of conspiracy. He'll be sentenced in two to three months.

Prosecutors say Volkman will likely spend the rest of his life in prison.



UPDATE 5/9/11 @ 6:15 p.m.
CINCINNATI, Ohio (WSAZ) -- After five days of deliberation, a jury in Cincinnati has returned guilty verdicts in the case of a southern Ohio pain clinic doctor.

Dr. Paul Volkman of Chicago was found guilty on 18 counts Monday afternoon, including four counts of causing the overdose deaths of patients from narcotic drugs received from Volkman.

This is the first case in southern Ohio where a doctor has been found guilty of causing a drug overdose death.

The jury returned the verdict about 5 p.m. Monday. Volkman faces a mandatory 20-year sentence for each count of causing death.

He was also convicted of 12 counts of illegal distribution of pain pills, four counts of operating an illegal drug house, one count of conspiracy and one illegal gun possession charge. He will be sentenced in 90 days.

Following the verdict, Volkman, 64, was remanded to the custody of the U.S. Marshals Service.

The government presented 70 witnesses during the trial that began with jury selection on March 1 and lasted more than eight weeks.

Government witnesses included pharmacists who refused to fill prescriptions from Volkman, law enforcement agents and officers who investigated the deaths, Volkman’s employees, individuals who received pills from Volkman, medical experts and family members of the victims.

Volkman was one of the nation’s largest physician dispensers of oxycodone in 2003 and 2005. Evidence presented during the trial showed that Volkman prescribed and dispensed millions of dosages of various drugs including diazepam, hydrocodone, oxycodone, alprazolam and carisoprodol.

Volkman operated out of three locations in Portsmouth, Ohio and one location in Chillicothe, Ohio before task force investigators led by DEA Diversion investigators shut him down in 2006. Customers paid between $125 and $200 cash per clinic visit. After a brief visit with him, they received a prescription for pain medicine. The clinics opened their own dispensary in 2003 after local pharmacies refused to honor prescriptions he wrote.

Volkman also directed his customers to the East Main Pharmacy in Columbus which filled more than 5,500 prescriptions for high doses of oxycodone and other drugs between September 2005 and February 2006. Pharmacy owner Harold Eugene Fletcher pleaded guilty in January 2011 to illegal distribution of oxycodone and committing financial and tax crimes. He is awaiting sentencing.

“The jury’s verdict brings a measure of justice and closure to the victims’ families,” Stewart said. “Addressing the complex problem of prescription drug diversion and the crimes’ consequences will require our continued best efforts. I want to commend Assistant U.S. Attorneys Tim Oakley and Adam Wright who prosecuted the case and the law enforcement agencies who worked together during this investigation.”

Two individuals indicted with Volkman pleaded guilty to their roles in the crimes and testified against him. Denise Huffman, 57, who owned Tri-State Health Care and Pain Management in Portsmouth, and South Point Pain Management which operated in Portsmouth and elsewhere, pleaded guilty on November 10, 2010 to operating and maintaining a drug involved premises. Alice Huffman Ball, 36, pleaded guilty on October 25, 2010 to an identical charge. She managed the clinics. Their crimes are each punishable by up to 20 years imprisonment. Both are awaiting sentencing.

In a separate proceeding, the judge will be asked to decide if Volkman should forfeit the proceeds of his crimes. In the indictment, the government sought forfeiture of approximately $3.8 million.



UPDATE 5/9/11 @ 10 a.m.
CINCINNATI, Ohio (WSAZ) -- After nearly a week, off the jury was scheduled to resume deliberations today in the pain clinic trial of Dr. Paul Volkman.

A spokesperson for the U.S. Attorney's office said one juror was ill last week, and that's why the deliberations were put on hold.

Dr. Volkman ran pain clinics in Portsmouth and South Point, Ohio when he was arrested in 2007. Prosecutors say during that time, he distributed powerful pain pills without a prescription.

12 of his patients died of drug overdoses and prosecutors say those deaths are connected to the drugs they received from Dr. Volkman.

Keep clicking on WSAZ.com for the latest in the case.



UPDATE 4/25/11 @ 4:50 p.m.
CINCINNATI, Ohio (WSAZ) -- A verdict was expected Monday, but they jury is still out in the trial of Dr. Paul Volkman.

Closing arguments were presented to the jury last Thursday, and they are still deliberating. The jury was in on Monday from 9 a.m. to 4:15 p.m. and were unable to come to a decision.

The jury will reconvene Tuesday at 9 a.m.

Dr. Volkman ran pain clinics in Portsmouth and South Point, Ohio when he was arrested in 2007. Prosecutors say during that time, he distributed powerful pain pills without a prescription.

12 of his patients died of drug overdoses and prosecutors say those deaths are connected to the drugs they received from Dr. Volkman.

Keep clicking on WSAZ.com for the latest in the case.



UPDATE 4/25/11 @ 2:30 p.m.
CINCINNATI, Ohio (WSAZ) -- The verdict could come Monday in the case of a doctor accused in the deaths of dozens of his patients.

Prosecutors and the defense presented closing arguments last Thursday in the trial of Dr. Paul Volkman in Cincinnati.

Dr. Volkman ran pain clinics in Portsmouth and South Point, Ohio when he was arrested in 2007. Prosecutors say during that time, he distributed powerful pain pills without a prescription.

12 of his patients died of drug overdoses and prosecutors say those deaths are connected to the drugs they received from Dr. Volkman.

Keep clicking on WSAZ.com for the latest in the case.



UPDATE 4/14/11
CINCINNATI, Ohio (WSAZ) --The trial of a doctor accused of contributing to the drug overdose deaths of at least 12 people is heading towards a finale in U.S. District Court in Cincinnati.

Dr. Paul Volkman, from Chicago, operated pain clinics in South Point and Portsmouth when he was arrested in May 2007. Volkman is charged in a 22 count indictment.

Federal prosecutors say Dr. Volkman's clinics distributed millions of pills over several years, often with no medical reason. Volkman denies the allegations.

Earlier this week, the prosecution rested its case after nearly six weeks of testimony.

The defense could wrap up its cases as early as Friday. No word if Dr. Volkman will testify in his own defense.



UPDATE 3/1/11 5:30 p.m.
CINCINNATI, Ohio (WSAZ) -- Did a local pain doctor commit multiple murders by doling out mass quantities of painkillers?

That’s what a federal jury will decide as a high-profile case involving a pain clinic finally got underway.

WSAZ.com's Randy Yohe has been covering the Dr. Paul Volkman case since 2005; he says this trial is a precedent setter.

It's seen as the first suspected "dirty doctor" case in our region where federal prosecutors will work to connect a dozen overdose deaths to what the DEA says was the 1.5 million pain pills the Chicago-based doctor prescribed in and around Portsmouth from 2001 to 2006.

Throughout Appalachia and the country, many eyes are now on a Cincinnati federal courtroom

The road to federal court began with a 2005 raid on Volkman's converted Portsmouth house to pain clinic. Prosecutors say patients traveled in from up to 400 miles away, paying for pills in cash.

In 2007, a grieving Eunice Gillespie finally learned how her grandson Aaron died. Aaron’s name was the first of several overdose victims on a federal indictment against Volkman, who was also arrested in 2007.

“I don't believe he would deliberately kill himself,” Gillespie said.

Neither did Denise Huffman and Alice Huffman Ball. Prosecutors named the Greenup County mother and daughter as co-conspirators.
The pair managed Volkman's clinics in Portsmouth and South Point.
In 2010, they pleaded guilty.

In a plea statement, Huffman admitted that Volkman would issue prescriptions -- sometimes in excess of 1,000 pills per patient.
The statement read that firearms, ball bats and other weapons were used to maintain customer order.

And the statement explained that Volkman's prescribed dosages resulted in addiction overdoses and death.

Volkman says he's innocent and was vigilant in testing his patients for substance abuse.

Jury selection should wrap up Wednesday. Opening statements and testimony will follow.

The current 22-count felony charges against Volkman could net him up to 20 years in prison.

But, if death is proven to be connected to the crimes, he could face life imprisonment.

We’re told -- with more than140 witnesses, including family members of overdose victims -- the trial could take as long as six weeks.



UPDATE 3/1/11
CINCINNATI, Ohio (WSAZ) -- A doctor accused of contributing to the drug overdose deaths of at least 12 people goes on trial Tuesday in U.S. District Court in Cincinnati.

Dr. Paul Volkman, from Chicago, operated pain clinics in South Point and Portsmouth when he was arrested in May 2007.

Federal agents raided his Portsmouth clinic in October 2005.

Federal prosecutors say Dr. Volkman's clinics distributed millions of pills over several years, often with no medical reason. Volkman denies the allegations saying he was vigilant about conducting drug tests on his patients to make sure they weren't abusing substances.
Volkman has pleaded not guilty to the 22 count indictment.

The trial is expected to last 5-6 weeks with some 140 people testifying.

Denise Huffman and her daughter Alice Huffman Ball ran the pain clinics. They were arrested at the same time as Dr. Volkman. They have since pleaded guilty and agreed to cooperate with prosecutors.

Keep clicking on WSAZ.com for updated information.



ORIGINAL STORY 7/27/07
COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) -- Federal prosecutors have accused a doctor and two office managers at Ohio pain clinics of illegally distributing the power painkiller Oxycontin and other drugs that led to the deaths of at least 14 people.

Doctor Paul Volkman was arrested Monday in Chicago, where he has a home.

Authorities say he worked out of southern Ohio clinics in Portsmouth and South Point.

A federal grand jury in Cincinnati has returned a 22-count indictment against Volkman and officer managers Denise Huffman of Portsmouth, and her daughter, Alice Huffman Ball, also of Portsmouth.

They could face life in prison if convicted of distributing a controlled substance that results in death.

An attorney for Denise Huffman denies the allegations.


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