Pharmacy owners must pay $5M for illegal sale of narcotics

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A husband and wife who owned an Atlanta pharmacy accused of supplying drugs to pill mill patients have been ordered to pay $5 million to state agencies that offer substance abuse treatment and victim assistance.

Rosemary Ofume, 59, and Donatus Iriele, 63, were each ordered to pay $2.5 million in community restitution after they were convicted of using their business, Medicine Center Pharmacy to illegally dispense controlled narcotics to customers of a pill mill clinic, the U.S attorney's office in Atlanta said Friday in a news release.

The restitution money is to go to the Georgia Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Disabilities and the Criminal Justice Coordinating Council for victims' assistance in restitution for the public harm they caused. Prosecutors say the restitution order is the first of its kind in the country against pharmacists.

The pair were convicted on money laundering and drug trafficking charges and were sentenced to prison in July, with Ofume to serve 19 years and Iriele to serve 20.

"These pharmacists fed opiate addictions among so many as a means to sustain their lifestyles," said U.S. Attorney Byung J. "BJay" Pak. "Now, they will begin to serve lengthy prison sentences and pay back the state of Georgia to account for some of the harm they caused to the community."

An investigation revealed that Godfrey Ilonzo financed and operated at least eight clinics in Georgia under the AMARC name, including the Lakewood AMARC pain clinic, where his wife, Bona Ilonzo, served as office manager. Two doctors, Dr. Nevorn Askari and Dr. William Richardson, served as the primary physicians for the clinics.

The Ilonzos and the two doctors have pleaded guilty to charges related to their roles in the scheme, prosecutors said.

Ofume and Iriele operated Medicine Center Pharmacy across the street from the Lakewood clinic. The pair worked with the Ilonzos and the two doctors to facilitate the dispensing of oxycodone and other opiates to drug addicts and dealers, prosecutors said.

Customers waited hours at the Lakewood clinic and paid cash for prescriptions for medically inappropriate and potentially lethal combinations of drugs and then bought the pills at high prices from the pharmacy, prosecutors said. Many customers came from throughout Georgia and even other states to visit the AMARC clinics and the pharmacy operated by Ofume and Iriele, prosecutors said.

Ofume lied to pharmaceutical distributors to get enormous quantities of oxycodone and prescription pain pills, notably purchasing 11 times more oxycodone in 2009 than the average pharmacy in Georgia. The pharmacy bought nearly 1.4 million opioid pills between 2009 and 2012, prosecutors said.

Ofume and Iriele took in more than $5.1 million from unlawful prescriptions from AMARC clinic doctors, accounting for more than 90 percent of the pharmacy's revenue. They also laundered the money by buying vehicles in the U.S. for people in Nigeria without disclosing that those people were depositing equivalent amounts into Iriele's personal bank account in the African nation.

The Georgia Board of Pharmacy had revoked Iriele's pharmacy license and temporarily suspended Ofume's license in 2007 after they failed to account for more than 600,000 controlled substance pills at their pharmacies and had dispensed controlled substances for more than 1,400 forged prescriptions.