A couple have pleaded guilty to conspiring with a Michigan doctor to funnel tens of thousands of pain pills into Eastern Kentucky to be abused and sold.
Clarence D. Bentley and Kelly Bentley of Michigan were charged in federal court with their doctor, Anthony Jungho Choe, with conspiring to provide pills to drug dealers in Pike and Floyd counties.
The Bentleys both pleaded guilty in recent weeks. They have not yet been sentenced.
Such plea agreements typically would require them to testify against Choe, who is scheduled be tried in Pikeville beginning Sept. 22.
Clarence Bentley told police he considered Choe a drug dealer, but the doctor has said he is innocent.
Choe's attorney, Thomas L. Stringer, said in a court document that the Bentleys had painful physical ailments and that Choe relied on their claims about their pain in prescribing pills to help them.
Choe had no reason to suspect that claims by the two were a pretext to get pills to sell, and he never agreed to take part in a scheme to distribute drugs, Stringer said in the motion.
The allegations in the case are an example of the interstate pill pipelines that have plagued Eastern Kentucky in recent years.
The Bentleys said Choe prescribed pain pills to them, and they then sold some of the pills to a woman named Brenda Branham, who took them Eastern Kentucky and resold them to a drug dealer.
In a separate case, Bran ham told authorities she bought 30-milligram oxycodone pills in Michigan for $10 apiece from people who had gotten them by prescription, then sold them for $20 apiece to Donnie Kinder, a large-scale drug dealer in Pike County.
Kinder told police he sold the pills for $35 each.
The Bentleys said Choe essentially operated a pill mill — taking cash payments to write them prescriptions for powerful narcotics with little or no physical examination.
At the highest point, Choe, who had an office in Albion, Mich., was prescribing Clarence Bentley 37 pain pills a day, according to court documents.
Choe prescribed more than 10,000 30-milligram oxycodone pills from August 2010 through August 2012 to Clarence Bentley, and about 8,000 to Kelly Bentley during that time, according to plea documents they signed.
The conspiracy came to light in October 2011, when Operation UNITE detectives used undercover informants to buy pills from Kinder.
Police raided his home in Mouthcard that same month, seizing methadone tablets and $19,650 hidden under a bathtub.
Kinder told authorities that Branham had been bringing him shipments of pills from Michigan for 12 to 18 months. He said he got a total of 4,000 to 4,500 oxycodone pills a month and resold them, according to a plea document he signed.
Kinder admitted responsibility for distributing more than 63,000 30-milligram oxycodone pills from May 2010 through October 2011.
After he was arrested, Kinder cooperated with police and set up another shipment. Police were waiting at Kinder's when Branham and a partner, Janice Carole Branham, arrived with 1,590 oxycodone pills, plus methadone and Xanax, according to Kinder's plea.
Kinder, 81, is serving a sentence of 10 years and 10 months in prison.
The court docket indicates that Brenda Branham and Janice Carol Branham have said they plan to plead guilty.
In the related case, Clarence Bentley said that after Brenda Branham was arrested, he developed his own connection with a drug dealer in Eastern Kentucky and delivered pills to that person nearly every month from November 2011 through May 2012, when he was arrested.
Choe could face up to 20 years in prison if convicted.