BOCA RATON, Fla. - Crooked entrepreneurs teamed with an elderly doctor to run a network of illegal pain clinics, authorities said Wednesday.
As part of the scheme, the operators trafficked prescription drugs and illegally funneled pills from doctors offices to a pharmacy, investigators said.
The Palm Beach County Prescription Drug Diversion Task Force and State Attorney's Office dismantled the network Wednesday after a yearlong investigation dubbed Operation "Blue Spoon." The effort yielded five arrests on charges ranging from operating an unlicensed pain clinic to trafficking in contraband prescription drugs.
"These raids are going to continue, and that's what the whole diversion task force is designed to do," Palm Beach County State Attorney Michael McAuliffe said Wednesday. "Our philosophy is hit them hard, hit them repeatedly, shut them down and take their assets."
Arrested were Pasquale Gervasio, of Parkland; Richard McMillan, 38, of suburban Delray Beach; Boca Raton clinic manager Adelard LeFrancois, 41, of suburban Boca Raton; pharmacist Mark Donegan, 51 ; and Dr. Sherri Pinsley, 65, of suburban Delray Beach.
Charging documents made public in Palm Beach County don't mention Gervasio or McMillan. They were arrested on a Clay County warrant that accused them of operating an unlicensed pain clinic.
Corporate records show Gervasio was involved in opening the clinics in Boca Raton and Margate. McMillan was involved in opening clinics in Boca Raton and Palm Springs.
"It was just a matter of time until these guys went down because they were unabashed and advertising in plain sight," said Dave Aronberg, who heads the Florida attorney general's anti-pill mill efforts. His office wasn't involved in the criminal investigation.
In all, authorities conducted seven raids in Palm Beach and Broward counties, targeting two pain clinics, Total Medical Express in Palm Springs and Boca Raton.
The raids came about after authorities conducted a "routine administrative inspection" Nov. 3 and Nov. 10 at the Country Value Pharmacy, in the 6200 block of N. Federal Highway in Boca Raton. Both times, investigators noted that Donegan, the pharmacy's prescription department manager, wasn't there and they couldn't reach him. Instead, investigators dealt with LeFrancois, who is not a licensed pharmacist.
According to an affidavit for LeFrancois' arrest, the pharmacy had more drugs than it could account for. Each time, LeFrancois told investigators the pills came from "Dr. Pinsley" and "the clinics," both unauthorized sources.
Key to the operation was a 75-year-old doctor, Arnold H. Aaron of Boca Raton. The board-certified family practitioner and anesthesiologist took over as sole manager of clinics in Palm Springs, Boca Raton, Margate, Orlando and Orange Park, according to notarized documents signed days before tougher pain clinic restrictions took effect Oct. 1.
The new law requires pain clinics to register, allows the state to inspect them and seize records without subpoenas, makes doctors examine patients before prescribing drugs, holds doctors responsible for clinic actions, and lets the state shut down clinics that break the rules.
Aaron hasn't been charged. He was in Michigan on Wednesday having surgery, Aronberg said.