Jury convicts woman for running $2 million ‘pill mill’, but acquits doctors who wrote prescriptions

ByDonald L. Leech

Mar 3, 2022

A jury convicted the owner of a series of group homes in North Philadelphia for operating a multimillion-dollar ‘pill mill’, but acquitted two doctors for joining her in a brazen operation that, according to state prosecutors, put thousands of oxycontin pills on the street. .

Landlord Evelyn “Tracie” Smith, 56, of Camden, skipped the verdict reading in Norristown on Monday and the judge handling the case issued a warrant for her arrest as a fugitive, the court said. Smith’s lawyer, Nino Tinari.

The Montgomery County Court of Common Pleas jury deliberated for two-and-a-half days before sentencing Smith, who owned and operated three group homes in three-story townhouses on one block on North 18th Street, near Tioga Street. She was convicted of two counts of drug trafficking and a single count of filing a false claim for medical assistance, but acquitted of Medicaid fraud, identity theft and conspiracy to administer a substance controlled.

The doctors, Emmanuel Okolo, 54, of Ambler, and Mohanad Fallouh, 53, of Blue Bell, who faced the same set of charges, were acquitted on all counts.

Prosecutors said Smith, a nurse with a lengthy criminal record, provided doctors with the personal ID and Medicaid numbers of dozens of her tenants so she and a cousin, Kent Hunter, could obtain fraudulent prescriptions from pharmacies. of Chestnut Hill, Skippack and Lansdale. . Smith and Hunter then sold the drugs on the street, prosecutors claim.

Hunter, 55, of Philadelphia, pleaded guilty Sept. 15 to drug trafficking and conspiracy. He testified for the prosecution.

Smith has a 35-year criminal record. She has numerous previous convictions for forgery and theft and was sentenced in 1998 to up to five years in prison for robbery. City and state officials could not immediately explain why she was able to operate a group home business.

His sentencing in the pill mill case is set for May 20.

In 2020, state Attorney General Josh Shapiro accused the defendants of throwing “fuel on the fire of the opioid crisis.”

“This was a massive operation that breached good faith and broke Pennsylvania law,” Shapiro said at the time, announcing a grand jury presentation. “And they did it knowing they were preying on some of the most vulnerable.”

A spokesman for Shapiro, who is seeking the Democratic nomination for governor, said the office was disappointed the doctors were found not guilty, but was pleased with the convictions of Hunter and Smith, which the racketeer word called “leader”. The spokesperson added, “Pennsylvania lost 5,172 lives to drug overdoses in the last year alone. We must continue to hold accountable the bad actors who profit from addiction.

Lawyers for Okolo and Fallouh welcomed the jury’s decision.

“Since his arrest, Dr. Fallouh has vigorously maintained his innocence against all charges. He and his family are delighted with the jury’s decision,” said his attorney, Andrew J. Levin.

“I am delighted that the jury has seen fit to acquit Dr. Okolo of all charges,” said his attorney, A. Charles Peruto, Jr.

Okolo and Fallouh voluntarily gave up their medical licenses after being arrested. Okolo will be looking to get his license back, Peruto said, while Levin said he was unsure of Fallouh’s plans. The doctors worked at the Carriage House Medical Group in Flourtown, Montgomery County, at the time of their arrest.

Prosecutors told the jury that between 2015 and 2017, the two doctors wrote 1,009 fraudulent prescriptions for oxycodone and Xanax, totaling 99,753 pills with a street value of nearly $2 million, under the names of over 100 tenants living in the three properties. Okolo and Fallouh were accused of frequently writing prescriptions without meeting the patients for whom they were prescribing the drugs and then handing them over to Smith.

Their attorneys said that after the two doctors began working with Smith, they became suspicious and gradually began to reduce the number of prescriptions they wrote.

Peruto said of the jury, “They were smart enough to realize that the number of pills was only a factor in this case.”

Prosecutors began investigating after a tenant went to get a legal prescription and the pharmacist noticed numerous other prescriptions filled in the tenant’s name that the tenant was unaware of. The pharmacist then alerted the patient’s insurance company, which contacted the authorities.