D. Michael Dunavant, United States Attorney for the Western District of Tennessee, announced last week the indictment of 15 West Tennessee residents for illegally distributing prescription opioids. Those indicted included several medical doctors and nurse practitioners. The indictments were part of a coordinated effort by several U.S. Attorneys and the Department of Justice’s Appalachian Regional Prescription Opioid Strick Force (ARPO).

The indictments are part of a long-term strategy sponsored by the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Western District of Tennessee to fight the opioid epidemic. The strategy has two prongs: the office’s work with ARPO and its sponsorship of the West Tennessee Heroin Initiative. The Office’s Heroin Initiative focuses on health care professionals who violate federal drug laws, as well as drug dealers who provide opioids to illegal users that result in overdose deaths.

“Opioid misuse and abuse is an insidious epidemic, created in large part by the over-prescribing of potent opioids nationwide, and unfortunately, Tennessee is at the center,” said Dunavant. “We will not stand by and allow the harmful and oftentimes deadly practice of over-prescribing highly addictive drugs to continue unchecked. Along with our partners, the U.S. Attorney’s Office will pursue medical personnel who misuse their positions of trust to blatantly disregard and endanger others’ very lives for their own financial gain.”

Listed below are those defendants currently in custody:

Jackson Branch Office: Jeffrey Young, 45, Dr. Alexander Alperovich, Dr. Andrew Rudin 

Defendant Jeff Young, a Nurse Practitioner who branded himself the “Rock Doc,” allegedly prescribed powerful and dangerous combinations of opioids and benzodiazepines, sometimes in exchange for sexual favors; over approximately three years, the doctor allegedly prescribed approximately 500,000 hydrocodone pills, 300,000 oxycodone pills, 1,500 fentanyl patches, and more than 600,000 benzodiazepine pills. Count one charges conspiracy to distribute and dispense controlled substances. Counts two through seven charges, unlawfully distributing and dispensing controlled substances to a pregnant woman and aiding and abetting. Counts eight through 14 charges, unlawfully distributing and dispensing controlled substances and aiding and abetting. Count 15 charges, maintaining a drug-involved premises and aiding and abetting. If convicted on the 15-count indictment, each faces up to 20 years imprisonment and $1 million fine. Dr. Alperovich and Dr. Rudin are also charged in the conspiracy to unlawfully distribute and dispense controlled substances.

Dr. Thomas Kelly Ballard, III, 61

Dr. Ballard is charged with controlled substances violations for allegedly prescribed approximately 4.2 million opioid pills, sometimes in dangerous combinations with other drugs, such as benzodiazepines, and prescribed opioids to known addicts. He is also accused of unlawfully distributing and dispensing controlled substances to a pregnant woman. Count one charges maintaining a drug-involved premises and aiding and abetting. Counts two through seven charges, unlawfully distributing and dispensing controlled substances and aiding and abetting. The U.S. will seek criminal forfeiture. If convicted, Ballard faces a term of imprisonment of note less than 20 years or more than life, a fine of $1 million.

Mary Bond, 62, and Dr. Loran Karlosky, 39, Dr. Jay Shires, 35

Mary Bond is a Nurse Practitioner who operated her medical practice out of downtown clinic in Bells. Her patients were drug seekers who came in groups from great distances to get their cocktails of controlled substances. Drs. Karlosky and Shires were aware of her dispensing drugs unlawfully, and actively participated in the conspiracy. Count one charges, conspiracy to distribute and dispense controlled substances. Counts two through seven charges, unlawfully distributing and dispensing controlled substances and aiding and abetting. The United States will seek forfeiture from proceeds generated from this crime. If convicted, they each dace not more than 20 years and a fine of up to $1 million.

Glenn Bonifield Jr., 73 and Michelle Bonifield, 45 (state custody)

Glenn Benfield is a licensed pharmacist, and Michelle Bonifield is a pharmacy technician in Bells. Count one charges conspiracy to distribute and dispense controlled substance. Counts two through seven charge unlawfully distributing and dispensing controlled substances and aiding and abetting. The U.S. will seek criminal forfeiture from these crimes.

Britney Petway, 33 and Dr. Charles Alston, 48

Petway is a Nurse Practitioner who owned and operated Superior Health in Jackson, with Dr. Alton’s supervision. Pettway prescribed the Holy Trinity and opioid/benzo combinations on many occasions. She often left pre-signed scripts for non-medical professionals to dispense. Petway is charged with conspiracy to unlawfully distribute controlled substances allegedly prescribed more than 500,000 Hydrocodone pills, approximately 300,000 Oxycodone pills, and approximately 300,000 benzodiazepine pills (mostly Alprazolam), along with a myriad of other controlled substances. If convicted, she faces up to 20 years imprisonment and a fine of up to $1 million.

Memphis Office: Dr. Richard Farmer, 82

Defendant Richard Farmer was a doctor of psychiatry who issued prescriptions for controlled substances at his medical clinic in Memphis, without a legitimate medical purpose and often in exchange for sexual favors or companionship. He is also accused of unlawfully distributing and dispensing controlled substances to a pregnant woman. If convicted, Farmer faces up not more than 20 years imprisonment and a fine of up to $1 million.

James Litton, 43

A former Nurse Practitioner who issued prescriptions for controlled substance, including the Scheduled II controlled substances Alprazolam, Clonazepam and Carisoprodal at medication and healthcare fraud, including billing for diagnostic testing. Count one charges, conspiracy to distribute and dispense controlled substances. If convicted, Litton faces not more than 20 years imprisonment and/or a fine of $1 million.

Kathryn Russell

During an eight-week period, Russell, a Registered Nurse, prescribed opioids and other cocktails to drug seeks with no legitimate medical purpose. She was under the influence of drugs while employed at Dillion Russell Health Professionals, Inc., in Memphis. Count one charges, conspiracy to distribute and dispense controlled substance. If convicted, Russell faces up to 20 years imprisonment and a fine of up to $1 million.

Dr. Michael Hellman, 72

Dr. Hellman prescribed large amounts of the Schedule V controlled substance promethazine with codeine to patients, including confidential informants, over a long period without any physical examinations. Counts one through three charges, unlawfully distributing and dispensing controlled substances. If convicted, Hellman faces a term of imprisonment of not more than 20 years and a fine of up to $1 million.

Dr. Thomas Hughes, 69

Dr. Hughes, a licensed encrinologist, is charged with a nine-count indictment with fraudulently dispensing Scheduled III controlled substances to himself for testosterone. Counts one through nine charges, obtaining a controlled substance by fraud and aiding and abetting. The United States will seek forfeiture from funds generated from these crimes. If convicted, Hughes faces up to four years imprisonment, a fine up to $250,000.

The Heroin Initiative has resulted in a number of federal prosecutions in which the defendants are charged with distributing opioids that resulted in an overdose death.

The following are examples of overdose cases investigated and prosecuted by the Heroin Initiative:

• On February 16, 2018, Marvin “Pookie” Foster, 51, was sentenced to 25 years for distributing heroin, which resulted in a fatal overdose.

• 32-year-old Cortez Armstrong was sentenced to 20 years imprisonment for distributing a lethal dose of Fentanyl.

• On August 24, 2018, David Mitchell Murray of Memphis pled guilty to conspiracy to distribute heroin resulting in death. Murray is currently awaiting sentencing.

• Glenda Aldape, 42, of Cordova, pleaded guilty to conspiracy to distribute heroin resulting in death and possession of heroin with intent to distribute. She is currently awaiting sentencing.

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