POMPANO BEACH, Fla. -- Two Pompano Beach firefighters were arrested Wednesday along with 10 other Floridians on drug-trafficking and racketeering charges as part of "Operation Pill Street Blues" — a multi-agency crackdown on a statewide network of illegal pain clinics, according to the Drug Enforcement Administration.
Federal authorities alleged that firefighters Lewis Gabriel Stouffer, 32, of Coconut Creek, and Craig Louis Turturo, 32, of Boca Raton, were among a group of partners who made millions of dollars from pill mills. Stouffer is accused by authorities of being "the brains of the operation," which allegedly thrived from having corrupt doctors dispense millions of pills without medical justification to patients, many of whom were drug addicts.
Stouffer allegedly researched public records about past federal drug investigations to become savvy about illegally running clinics and to avoid scrutiny from law enforcement, the DEA said. In exchange for his expertise, Stouffer got a share of the profits, the DEA said.
"Stouffer used his hero firefighter/paramedic image to maneuver through the system," according to a DEA press release. "Stouffer maintained a rapport with local law enforcement. He educated his co-conspirators on how to successfully report their competition as well as how to report doctor shoppers in order to appear as though they were legitimate pain clinics."
Stouffer and Turturo, both 11-year employees with spotless records at Pompano Beach Fire Rescue, were suspended without pay after their arrests Wednesday, a fire-rescue spokeswoman said.
Operation Pill Street Blues began in 2010, when authorities started investigating "suspicious" activities at Stuart Pain Management at 1146 21st St. in Vero Beach.
As the inquiry progressed — through intercepted phone calls, undercover visits and use of informants — agents identified Stuart Pain Management and eight other clinics from Miami to Pensacola as a pill mill network that dispensed bulk quantities of drugs, such as Oxycodone, Roxicodone, Percocet, Xanax and Valium, the DEA said.
In recent months, one pill mill suspect, Bruce Paul Karlin, allegedly called Stouffer to alert him of the death of Forrest Cyphers, a patient of Dr. Roger Lee Gordon at Stuart Pain Management, the DEA said. Stouffer told him not to worry as "people die every day," the DEA said. Gordon and Karlin, who apparently had "no remorse" for Cyphers, will be charged with manslaughter in Cyphers' death, the DEA said.
Dr. Gordon, 65, of Plantation, was arrested Wednesday, while Karlin, 63, of Delray Beach, was expected to turn himself in to authorities by Thursday. Other local residents arrested in the alleged ring were Jeffrey Clark Thompson, 32, and Michael Charles Bengala, 67, both of Pompano Beach. Courtland Burr Twyman, 38, Deerfield Beach, also was expected to turn himself by Thursday.
Calling its investigation ongoing, the DEA said it expects to eventually arrest more doctors and alleged co-conspirators.