Rx for Danger: A look inside building case against pill mill suspects
Members of the Metropolitan Bureau of Investigation stand outside Pro Relief Center near downtown Orlando on Friday, June 3, 2011. (Jacob Langston, Orlando Sentinel file / June 2, 2011)
From a small pain clinic near downtown Orlando and an affiliated office east of there, a single doctor prescribed more oxycodone during a three-month period in 2010 than all doctors in the state of California combined, agents said.
Ex-employees told law-enforcement officers that one of the clinics' managers crushed and snorted painkillers in the office. A former office assistant said a shipment of 3,200 oxycodone pills had disappeared one day. And a security guard told investigators he was fired because he called 911 to report a drug deal in the parking lot.
Those are just a few of the details in a nearly 200-page affidavit filed in Orange County Circuit Court in the racketeering case against doctors Riyaz Jummani and Aron Rotman, and Lewis Shapiro and his sons Jarrett Shapiro and Darin Shapiro, who owned or managed the clinics the doctors worked in.
The documents offer a rare glimpse inside the lengthy investigation, which took down the two so-called pill mills, resulting in the arrests earlier this month.
"These things are being managed by criminals who hire doctors to facilitate their criminal enterprise," said Danny Banks, assistant agent in charge of the Florida Department of Law Enforcement's Orlando office. "If we stop just at the doctors, we're never getting to those people who truly may be behind this entire criminal activity."
About seven people die each day in Florida because of prescription-drug abuse. In 2010, the most recent year for which data are available, 147 people died in Orange and Osceola counties because of accidental prescription-drug overdoses.
As part of the investigation into the Pro Relief Center (also known as Pain Relief Orlando) and Pain Relief Center of Orlando, FDLE and Metropolitan Bureau of Investigation agents gathered prescribing data from the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration, pulled state corporation filings and viewed Department of Health records.
Agents obtained the prescribing histories for 75 of Jummani's patients who got their drugs at Walgreens and found that 64 had criminal records. Of those, 42 have been arrested for drug-related crimes.
In addition to exploring the various paper trails, agents and investigators employed more-traditional law-enforcement tactics.
Undercover MBI agents posed as patients and were prescribed painkillers with little or no medical assessment. While waiting for their turns to see the doctors in the clinics, they overheard patients in the lobby talk about selling drugs.
Banks said the original target of this investigation was Jummani, but as agents gathered intelligence, it became clear they needed to get to the top of the operation: the Shapiros.
Cash — no insurance
State records show Lewis Shapiro, 65, founded Pain Relief Center of Orlando in 2008.
His son Darin, 38, who retired from water-ski competition in 2004 as the winningest competitor in the history of the sport, founded Pain Relief Orlando in 2009. The next year, he was inducted into the Water Ski Hall of Fame.
FDLE agents say all three Shapiros worked in a management capacity at the clinics. Each would not be interviewed by the Sentinel.
They recruited doctors to work at the clinics, but court documents show they had a problem retaining them. A man who used to work at a nearby business told agents Lewis Shapiro complained to him that doctors were quitting and suggested he would hire the man to don a lab coat and pretend to be a doctor at the clinic.
When legislators enacted a law last year requiring pain clinics be owned by a physician, ownership of the Shapiro clinics was transferred to Jummani. When agents questioned Jummani during a raid last year, he admitted the transfer was for compliance purposes only and that the Shapiros paid him $150 an hour, the affidavit shows.
The pain clinics were a cash business. Insurance was not accepted, and employees told agents the price per visit ranged from $160 to $350.