Why it’s so hard to break an opioid addiction
The owners of a Tennessee clinic conspired to illegally distribute pain pills that worsened the drug problem in southeast Kentucky, a federal jury has ruled.
The jury convicted the owners of the Tennessee Pain Institute, Anwar Mithavayani and Pete Anthony Tyndale, along with Timothy Dennis Gowder, a doctor who worked there, of scheming to distribute pain pills in Laurel, Bell, Knox, Whitley and McCreary counties for several years.
The conspiracy allegedly grossed at least $8.1 million from illegal activity before authorities shut it down in 2016, according to the indictment and other court records.
The clinic was in Hixson, Tenn., near Chattanooga, but carloads of people went there from Kentucky to get prescriptions for painkillers called opioids.
Bryan Reeder, a Kentucky State Police detective who investigated, testified at one hearing that hundreds of people traveled from Kentucky to the clinic, according to a court order.
Larry Karr, a Laurel County man who pleaded guilty in the case, described how the scheme worked: He paid for other people to go to businesses in other states and get prescriptions for drugs and they filled the orders and gave him a portion of the pills, which he and others sold in Kentucky.
As U.S. Magistrate Judge Hanly A. Ingram wrote in one court document, the prescribing happened in Tennessee “but the suffering and dying occurred in Kentucky.”
Such interstate pill pipelines have operated in Kentucky for years, focused primarily on South Florida at one point before that state enacted tougher controls on clinics.
Karr said he used the Tennessee Pain Institute because he knew it had been set up to provide drug prescriptions, rather than provide legitimate, non-prescription treatment, and doctors there “would reliably prescribe large amounts” of pain pills, according to his plea agreement.
After authorities shut down the Tennessee clinic, Mithavayani and Tyndale allegedly went into partnership with a man who had a drug-trafficking conviction to open a clinic in North Carolina, according to a court record.
The investigation of the Tennessee clinic began after a complaint that someone overdosed on pills from the office and died.
Prosecutors ultimately asked jurors to hold Gowder, Mithavayani and Tyndale responsible for three overdose deaths, but jurors decided against that.
In addition to the conspiracy charge, the jury convicted Gowder, Mithavayani and Tyndale on money laundering charges, according to U.S. Attorney Robert M. Duncan Jr.
The jury convicted James Bradley Combs, 41, of Woodbine, with possessing oxycodone in Knox County with the intent to distribute it.
Jurors acquitted another doctor who worked at the Tennessee clinic, Gary A. Moore, on all charges.
Moore’s attorney, Amanda Clark Palmer, said his defense was that he acted in good faith and believed the patients needed the medication he prescribed.
“He’s obviously pleased with the verdict, and relieved,” she said.
Jurors returned the verdicts on Feb. 8 after a four-week trial.
Gowder, 71, of Chattanooga, faces up to 40 years in prison, while Mithavayani, 55, and Tyndale, 47, both of Florida, each face potential sentences of more than 100 years, according to a news release from Duncan, whose office covers the eastern half of the state.
The maximum sentence for Combs, 41, would be 20 years. Karr, 74, is serving a sentence of 108 months.
“The defendants contributed to the opioid crisis that is ruining lives in our district and throughout the nation,” Duncan said.