Photo courtesy of Julia Roberts Goad/The Williamson Daily News
CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) - The former office manager of a Mingo County pain clinic has been sentenced to six months behind bars for conspiring to misuse a physician's U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration registration number.
Myra Miller pleaded guilty to the charge in March. U.S. District Judge John T. Copenhaver gave her the maximum possible sentence in federal court in Charleston on Wednesday.
Miller has said she played a reluctant role in what prosecutors say was a conspiracy to sell narcotic prescriptions to people who didn't need them.
As part of her plea agreement, Miller already has agreed to forfeit her interest in the clinic building and an adjoining office as well as $475,000 in assets seized at the time of the raid.
Most of that amount reflects cash found in her Kentucky home.
In a one-page unanimous opinion, a three-judge panel of the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond on Monday upheld a lower court's forfeiture order against Katherine Hoover, who now lives in the Bahamas.
Authorities raided Hoover's Mountain Medical Care Center in Mingo County in 2010, and accused her of recklessly and illegally issuing hundreds of thousands of prescriptions for pain medications from the clinic. She never faced criminal charges though.
Authorities said the $88,000 in question came from mostly from a bank account populated with clinic-related funds.
Hoover said in court papers that her prescriptions were legitimate.
Tuesday, Myra Miller, 49, of Williamson, pleaded guilty to conspiring to misuse a physician's federal drug registration number.
Miller was a manager at Mountain Medical Care Center. Investigators allege the Mingo County clinic provided prescriptions for cash to people with no legitimate need for them.
Miller said she helped provide illegal prescriptions for hydrocodone and Xanax in February 2010. Investigators raided the clinic the following month. It never reopened.
Miller also said Dr. William Ryckman had assured her she's wasn't breaking the law, and threatened to fire her if she did not cooperate.
After repeated questions from U.S. District Judge John Copenhaver, Miller said she knew her actions were illegal.
“This pill mill did enormous harm across a wide swath of our state and beyond,” said U.S. Attorney Goodwin. “Every time we put a law-breaking doctor or clinic out of business, it’s a big step toward getting this problem under control.”
Miller faces up to four years in prison and a $250,000 fine when she is sentenced in June.
In March 2012, Ryckman was sentenced to six months in prison followed by one year of supervised release for conspiracy to misuse his registration number.
Keep clicking on WSAZ.com for the latest information.
U.S. District Judge John T. Copenhaver Jr. has set an 11 a.m. hearing on Tuesday for Myra Miller.
The Kentucky woman is charged with misusing the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration registration number of a physician at the Mountain Medical Care Center.
Investigators raided the Mingo County clinic three years ago this month. They allege the clinic was prescribing powerful pain drugs to perhaps hundreds of people with no legitimate need for them.
Prosecutors also say husband John Miller has agreed to forfeit $475,000. Most of that was seized from the couple's Kentucky residence at the time of the clinic raid.
Keep clicking on WSAZ.com for the latest information.
Court filings suggest Myra Miller is ready to admit to misusing the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration registration number of a doctor at the Mountain Medical Care Center.
Investigators raided the Williamson clinic three years ago this month. They allege the clinic was prescribing powerful pain drugs to perhaps hundreds of people with no legitimate need for them.
Miller was office manager at the clinic, which remains closed.
She faces a March 19 plea hearing in Charleston.
Prosecutors also say husband John Miller has agreed to forfeit $475,000. Most of that is cash seized from the couple's Kentucky residence at the time of the clinic raid.
Dr. Katherine Hoover is appealing after a federal judge ordered her to forfeit the assets. The 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals received records for her petition this week.
Various assets were seized as part of the March 2010 raid on the Mountain Medical Care Center. Investigators believe the Mingo County clinic operated as a pill mill, alleging it recklessly provided pain drug prescriptions to thousands of people.
Most of the forfeited money came from a bank account, while $2,900 of it was cash found in a bureau drawer.
Hoover moved to the Bahamas following the raid. She failed to appear to testify in the civil forfeiture case.
William Ryckman pleaded guilty in December to conspiracy to misuse a Drug Enforcement Administration registration number. He was sentenced Wednesday by U.S. District Judge John T. Copenhaver Jr., who also fined Ryckman $5,000.
According to prosecutors, the 66-year-old Ryckman signed paperwork sent to his Pennsylvania home by his office in Williamson allowing individuals he did not evaluate or see as patients to gain prescriptions for hydrocodone and other medications, including Xanax. He admitted that individuals paid workers in his office to be directed to pharmacies for the medications.
The U.S. Attorney's Office says Dr. William Ryckman was illegally getting and then selling Xanax in the Williamson area back in February, 2010.
He worked at the Mountain Medical Center.
Before federal agents raided the pain clinic, as many as 400 patients a day were making visits.
They would pay $450 for the first visit, and then they would come back and pay $150 for a refill.
Doctor Katherine Hoover also worked at the clinic.
She has been in the Bahamas since the clinic was shut down.
Keep clicking on WSAZ.com for the latest information.
Both a U.S. District Court judge and a federal magistrate had ordered Dr. Katherine Hoover to attend Tuesday's legal proceeding in Charleston.
Federal prosecutors want Hoover to forfeit $88,000 seized as part of the raid on the Mountain Medical Care Center. Investigators suspect the Williamson clinic operated illegally as a pill mill. They cite the high volume of pain drug prescriptions signed by Hoover.
Tuesday marked the second time Hoover didn't show up for a deposition, which is meant to collect pretrial testimony. Hoover is acting as her own lawyer, and says federal prosecutors have no jurisdiction over medical practices.
The U.S. Attorney's office has asked a federal judge to dismiss the case they filed targeting the assets of Dr. Katherine Hoover and her husband.
Hoover and husband John Tomasic say the money has nothing to do with the Mountain Medical Care Center.
Investigators raided that Mingo County clinic in March 2010. It had provided more than 43,000 pain pill prescriptions during the prior year.
Despite the dismissal request, prosecutors still seek to confiscate more than $2.2 million in cash, bank holdings and real estate from Hoover and others who worked at the clinic.
Hoover defends her medical practice, and no criminal charges have been filed.
Dr. Katherine Hoover says she'll fight the attempt to confiscate the money. She also continues to argue that the Mountain Medical Care Center was illegally targeted.
No one has been charged criminally since investigators shut down the Williamson clinic in March. But U.S. District Court filings allege it operated as a pill mill. Prosecutors cite the high volume of pain drug prescriptions issued there under Hoover's name.
Hoover denies any wrongdoing. She was served with the forfeiture warrant late last month in the Bahamas, where she has been since the raid. The $88,029 was seized from a bank account and her Williamson apartment.
A complaint from the 1990s led the state Board of Medicine to revoke the license of Dr. Katherine Hoover this month.
The board faults Hoover for missing a May 8 hearing in her case. The complaint alleges she asked a teenage female patient to have sex with her son.
Investigators raided her Mountain Medical Care Center in March. No charges were filed, but the Williamson clinic remains closed. Federal prosecutors question the high volume of pain pill prescriptions written by Hoover and other doctors there.
Hoover is in the Bahamas. She told the board she could not travel because of health issues. She urged the board to reconsider in a letter Friday.
U.S. District Court filings allege the Mountain Medical Care Center operated as a multi-million pill mill, handing out pain medicine prescriptions in exchange for cash fees.
No charges have been filed. Dr. Katherine Hoover tells The Associated Press the Williamson clinic provided excellent care, and that she prescribed drugs only to legitimate patients.
Hoover faults federal officials for shutting down the clinic. It was raided along with her nearby apartment and her family's home in Harrison County. Investigators also searched other properties and seized several bank accounts.
Hoover says she's in the Bahamas, for medical and safety reasons.
Information was released Wednesday that investigators are still looking to search one more piece of the pain clinic puzzle. They also want to confiscate an older model BMW owned by one of the doctors at the clinic.
In early March, police and federal officials raided the 3rd Avenue location and shut it down. Now, ask anyone in the area regularly and they will tell you parking spaces that were once at a premium are no longer.
"(People) always out in the street, people backed up going in the doors. This parking lot was filled to the brim. You couldn't get another in it at all," Janette O'Brien says. She runs an outreach center a block away.
Wallace Perry notices, too.
"I don't know what is going to happen to it because everybody knew that this area was kind of hot for prescriptions," he said.
Just because the clinic is closed doesn't mean that the prescription drug problem is going away.
Charlie Brown is the chief probation officer for Logan County and he also works with the anti-drug group PIECES. The group works mainly in Logan, Lincoln, Boone and Mingo counties.
"I believe that southern West Virginia – Mingo (and) Logan counties -- can probably expect a rise in crime because of that," Brown said. “Just because you get rid of a supply does not mean those people are still not addicted and still looking for those pills."
Brown says it wouldn't surprise him if dealers from bigger cities like Columbus and Detroit see the need in Williamson and make their way to the area -- a troubling trend seen in Huntington time and again.
"I expect more victims from this, more suffering and pain for families of drug addicted people, and more suffering and pain for drug addicted people," Brown said.
Brown says it will likely take about six months before the real effects of the pain center closure will be seen. He says it's a good first step in curing a problem that plagues the area.
Brown says drug courts are helping to make a difference. The system allows offenders to get the treatment they need. Mingo County doesn't have one yet. Brown says surrounding counties do, and he's seen changes in people.
He says more grant money will be available -- hopefully soon -- to step up what the drug courts are doing or to start new ones.
This all started in early March when agents converged on the Mountain Medical Care Center in Williamson, W.Va. The facility was previously known as the Williamson Wellness Center.
Three doctors and several employees are accused of writing illegal prescriptions and health care fraud. According to FBI investigators, the clinic was dishing out hundreds of prescriptions each day in exchange for cash.
According to records from the West Virginia Board of Pharmacy, Dr. Katherine Hoover prescribed more controlled substances than any other doctor in the state. Since 2002, she's written more than 355,000 prescriptions. That total doesn't include prescriptions filled in neighboring Kentucky.
Camille Helsel, the owner of the clinic told investigators Dr. Hoover was the clinic's "bread and butter." The federal documents also say Helsel told investigators she "suspected about half of the patients were either drug addicts or were selling the prescription drugs they obtained" but went onto say "that is between that person and law enforcement."
Two other doctors who also operate out of the clinic, Dr. William Ryckman and Dr. Victorio Teleron, Jr. also are being investigated. No charges have been filed, but investigators say Dr. Hoover has fled the country.
The investigation dates back several years. Undercover agents and patients who testified say that for an initial price of about $450, patients would see one of the doctors. They say the doctors would ask them to get an MRI or an X-ray, ask them about the pain and then call in prescriptions to certain pharmacies.
An undercover officer says he was told by a nurse practitioner to get an X-ray because, "if the 'feds' walk in right now, she wanted them to be able to pick up any chart that they want and find that the clinic is searching for what's wrong with the patient."
After the initial visit, patients and the undercover officer testified they would show up to the clinic once a month and pay $150 for refills without ever having to see the doctor or prove that they still needed the drugs. Some patients testified they went more than a year without seeing a doctor.
A former doctor at the clinic, Dr. Donald Kiser, who is now in federal prison for prescription drug charges admitted to investigators that the Wellness Center was providing prescriptions in exchange for money.
Kiser told investigators he "observed a money counting machine at the practice and overheard a conversation between Myra Miller (the office manager) and Dr. Ryckman where Ryckman commented, 'Why are we paying the accountants if they cannot hide the money?'"
Investigators are trying to seize about $4.6 million from bank accounts belonging to the doctors and employees at the Wellness Center. Federal agents say the clinic brought in at least that much in 2009 alone.
The investigation is ongoing and no charges have been filed.
Dr. Hoover was practicing on a suspended license. WSAZ.com did some digging into her medical past. She had her license suspended for five years after a lengthy court battle for an incident dating back to 1995. Court records show Dr. Hoover asked a 17-year old girl who was in her office for her first gynecological exam if she or some of her friends would have sex with her teenage son.
Court testimony shows that Dr. Hoover gave the girl her home telephone number and a map to her house. Prior to the proposition, the girl testified she confided in Dr. Hoover that she had been sexually abused.
Court records also show that during the legal battle Dr. Hoover altered the girl's medical records.
As part of her suspension, Dr. Hoover was required to practice under a licensed physician.
On Tuesday, the FBI, Drug Enforcement Administration, and West Virginia State Police executed several federal warrants at the Wellness Center in Williamson. That's in Mingo County.
Information on the case is sealed, but troopers told us they've made several undercover prescription drug buys over the years believed to be linked to this clinic.
As of late Wednesday, no one has been arrested.
The warrant is still sealed, so there are few details about what the investigators are seeking.
They arrived at the Wellness Center along 3rd Avenue in downtown Williamson around 11 a.m. Tuesday and stayed until very late at night. Investigators carried out evidence and computers.
A lot of people in Williamson say the raid came as no surprise.
"The legality is questionable because no hospital I've been to has that many people," Joey Hatfield, who works down the street from the clinic, says. "They must have the miracle cure."
Hatfield says the clinic draws lots of people from the time it opens in the morning until it closes each day.
"The waiting room will be full," he says. "They'll be standing on the streets and they'll be people in cars. It's ridiculous. Down there they'll call you back five or six at a time. They'll list five or six names, and you'll see five or six people go in."
West Virginia State Police say they have made several prescription drug buys over the years believed to be linked to the pain clinic.
Some in Williamson say it's about time something was done.
"It's been going on in this town forever, and I'm glad to see them starting to clean this place up because it's been needing it for a long time," Tim Kirk says.
Investigators plan to release much more information about the raid on Wednesday. Keep clicking on WSAZ.com for the latest information.
FBI officers along with the West Virginia State Police and the Drug Enforcement Administration were on the scene throughout the day Tuesday and remained there Tuesday evening.
The FBI executed a federal search warrant of the wellness center along 3rd Avenue just before noon. The center remains closed, and no one is allowed in the building.
The search warrant remains sealed, so the details of what investigators are looking for is still not known. There also is no word on if any arrests have been made in this case.
We are told that state troopers will be stationed at the wellness center throughout the night.
We have a crew on the scene and will continue to follow this developing story as we get more information.