Cincinnati – Chicago physician Paul H. Volkman was recently sentenced in U.S. District Court to more than four terms of life imprisonment for illegally prescribing and dispensing pain pills outside the scope of a legitimate medical practice that resulted in the deaths of four people between 2003 and 2005.
Evidence presented during the trial showed that Volkman prescribed and dispensed millions of dosages of various drugs including diazepam, hydrocodone, oxycodone, alprazolam, and carisoprodol.
Volkman operated out of three locations in Portsmouth, Ohio and one location in Chillicothe before task force investigators led by DEA Diversion investigators shut him down in 2006. Customers paid between $125 and $200 cash per visit. After a brief visit with him, they received a prescription for pain medicine. The “clinics” opened their own dispensary in 2003 after local pharmacies refused to honor prescriptions he wrote.
Volkman also directed his customers to the East Main Pharmacy in Columbus which filled more than 5,500 prescriptions for high doses of oxycodone and other drugs between September 2005 and February 2006. Pharmacy owner Harold Eugene Fletcher pleaded guilty in January 2011 to illegal distribution of oxycodone and committing financial and tax crimes. Fletcher was sentenced on January 9, 2012 to 27 months in prison.
Robert L. Corso, Special Agent in Charge of the Drug Enforcement Administration’s (DEA) Detroit Field Division; Carter M. Stewart, United States Attorney for the Southern District of Ohio; Edward J. Hanko, Special Agent in Charge, Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI); Kyle W. Parker, Executive Director of the Ohio Board of Pharmacy; Richard A. Whitehouse, Executive Director, State Medical Board of Ohio, and Portsmouth (OH) Police Chief Charles Horner announced the sentence imposed today by Senior U.S. District Judge Sandra Beckwith.
A jury convicted Volkman, 64, on May 10, 2011 of 18 crimes including four counts of illegal drug distribution that resulted in death. He received a life sentence on each of those counts. Sentences on 13 other counts range from 10 to 20 years and were ordered to be served concurrently. He was sentenced to an additional five years in prison to be served consecutively for possession of a firearm in furtherance of a drug trafficking crime. Volkman was also ordered to forfeit $1.2 million.
The government presented 70 witnesses during the trial that began with jury selection on March 1, 2011 and lasted more than eight weeks. Government witnesses included pharmacists who refused to fill prescriptions from Volkman, his employees, individuals who received pills from Volkman, medical experts and family members of the victims.
DEA Special Agent in Charge Robert L. Corso stated: “The lengthy investigation into Dr. Paul Volkman, coupled with a life sentence, exemplifies that not only is DEA determined to combat prescription drug abuse in this country, but that the judicial system recognizes the seriousness of the issue in today’s society. Addressing the diversion of controlled pharmaceuticals is one of the top priorities of the Drug Enforcement Administration. The life sentence should serve as a warning to all medical professionals that if you prescribe medication for personal gain, with no consideration for the well-being of others, you will be investigated and prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.”
“Volkman was the physician at the center of a criminal scheme to distribute millions of controlled substances to hundreds of individuals in exchange for cash – a scheme that brought addiction, diversion, and death to southeastern Ohio and beyond,” Assistant U.S. Attorneys Tim Oakley and Adam Wright wrote in a sentencing memorandum filed with the court. “During the course of this conspiracy, Volkman was the top physician purchaser of oxycodone in the country.”
“Cooperative investigation by law enforcement, combined with the support of community groups and victims, are addressing the problem of addiction and illegal drug diversion,” U.S. Attorney Carter M. Stewart said. “Such united efforts must continue.”
Two individuals indicted with Volkman pled guilty to their roles in the crimes and testified against him. Denise Huffman, 57, who owned Tri-State Health Care and Pain Management in Portsmouth, and South Point Pain Management which operated in Portsmouth and elsewhere, pled guilty on November 10, 2010 to operating and maintaining a drug involved premises. Alice Huffman Ball, 36, pled guilty on October 25, 2010 to an identical charge. She managed the clinics. She was sentenced on November 8, 2011 to 60 months in prison followed by three years of supervised release.
In addition to the agencies listed above, Stewart commended the following law enforcement agencies who participated in the investigation: DEA offices in Columbus, Cincinnati, Louisville, London, Kentucky, Cleveland, Detroit and Chicago; Scioto County Sheriff’s Office, Scioto County Coroner’s Office, Lawrence County Sheriff’s Office, Ross County Sheriff’s Office, Pipeline 23 Drug Task Force, Ohio State Highway Patrol, Kentucky State Police, Greenup County Kentucky Coroner’s Office, Carter County Kentucky Coroner’s Office, Lewis County Kentucky Sheriff’s Office, Kentucky Office of Inspector General, and the Commonwealth of Kentucky Office of Attorney General.