Owner of Florida clinic that funneled pills to Kentucky says ‘money was too good’ to stop

The owner of a Florida pain clinic that helped feed Kentucky’s debilitating drug problem said he saw the operation like a factory — the more paying patients that could be pushed through, the better.

Joel A. Shumrak acknowledged he yelled at one staffer for spending too much time with patients.

Shumrak, 68, referred to the clinic with the term police use for an office where addicts and drug dealers pay cash to get prescriptions with little or no real physical examination by doctors.

“I ran a pill mill,” Shumrak, 68, said Monday during testimony in federal court. “It was a good money-making arrangement.”

Shumrak owned the Pain Center of Broward in Ft. Lauderdale, where carloads of people from Kentucky went to get prescriptions for powerful painkillers, then sold and abused the drugs at home.

Police said Shumrak’s Florida clinic and another he owned for a time in Georgia were sources for hundreds of thousands of pills that flowed into Eastern Kentucky between 2008 and mid-2014.

Shumrak was a major supplier of pills to Eastern Kentucky, said Frank Rapier, head of the Appalachia High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area.

The alleged conspiracy was rooted in Clay County, but addicts and drug dealers from a number of counties, including Fayette and Jefferson, went to Shumrak’s clinics, according to court records and U.S. Attorney Kerry Harvey’s office.

Police ultimately shut down the offices. Shumrak pleaded guilty to conspiring to distribute oxycodone and to money laundering, and is serving a 14-year prison sentence.

Two doctors who worked at his clinics, Michael S. Johnston and Irving Karten, also pleaded guilty, but have not been sentenced.

However, several other people who worked at the Florida clinic have strongly denied that they did anything wrong.

Shumrak testified for the prosecution at their trial in U.S. District Court.

$15 million Federal authorities charged that Joel A. Shumrak grossed $15 million through improper prescribing. His plea deal with the government called for him to forfeit $7 million — one of the largest such payments in a drug case in Eastern Kentucky.

When Shumrak started his clinic, Florida’s controls were weak. Drug-seekers from other states flocked to get pills from dozens of storefront offices there.

Shumrak said he set out to run a legitimate clinic, but eventually it spiraled out of control. So many people came to the clinic that it was “chaos” most days, Shumrak said.

Shumrak said there were things going on in the clinic he didn’t know about for a time, such as one staffer taking payoffs for faking drug screens that could have kept patients from getting prescriptions.

He acknowledged, however, that he and others at the clinic knew people from Kentucky were paying for carloads of people to come and get prescriptions.

In that type of drug trafficking, a dealer typically pays travel and exam expenses for people to go to clinics like Shumrak’s, then gives them some of the pills and takes the rest to sell.

Jay Young, a convicted drug dealer, testified Monday that he began taking five other people to Shumrak’s Florida clinic two or three times a month in 2011, paying their expenses and creating fake stories for them to tell about their pain so they could get prescriptions.

Young said he also got prescriptions. The doctors listened to his heart and lungs, but did no real examination, he said.

“They knew what was going on,” he said of the clinic employees.

Young said he made $5,000 to $10,000 from each trip.

Shumrak said he did not realize “the whole way it worked until late in the game,” but didn’t try to make changes once he did.

“I guess the money was too good,” he said.

Federal authorities charged that Shumrak grossed $15 million through improper prescribing. His plea deal with the government called for him to forfeit $7 million — one of the largest such payments in a drug case in Eastern Kentucky.

Shumrak said business declined after Florida adopted tougher controls on pain clinics in mid-2011. Among other things, he had to stop filling prescriptions on-site.

However, in 2011, Community Drug Pharmacy in Clay County began filling prescriptions for people who had been to Shumrak’s clinics, according to court records.

The pharmacy owner, Terry Tenhet, pleaded guilty to improperly filling thousands of prescriptions. He was sentenced to 10 years.

The five former clinic employees on trial are Lucille Frial-Carrasco, Enrique A. Gonzalez-Pujol, Patricia A. Solomon, and Catherine Nicole Russell, who were on the medical staff, and Carroll Lloyd Elliott, a security guard.

Attorneys for the medical staffers said in court documents that they provided legitimate treatment to patients and that if any clinic employees took part in wrongdoing, they were not aware of it. Elliott also said he did nothing wrong.

Their attorneys suggested through their questions in court that Shumrak and Young are not credible because their testimony was tainted by their desire to cut their prison time.

One defense attorney pointed out that Shumrak gave a conflicting answer to one question in a prior trial, and another said records indicated doctors did in fact examine Young before giving him a prescription.

The problem of people traveling to other states for prescriptions took root because of Kentucky’s top-rated system to monitor prescriptions.

Police said people left Kentucky to avoid the scrutiny of the system, which was set up to discourage people from going to multiple doctors to get drugs.

The spread of prescription-monitoring systems, enforcement and other measures have tamped down that interstate pill pipeline, Rapier said.

“It’s better than it was,” he said.

However, not all states have monitoring systems. There is still a problem with pills coming into Kentucky from out of state, Rapier said.