PALM BEACH COUNTY, Fla. – Six medical professionals in Broward County and Palm Beach County were arrested on May 23 on charges that include drug trafficking, racketeering, money laundering and conspiracy to commit racketeering, the Drug Enforcement Administration West Palm Beach District Office said.
The group stands accused of prescribing the weight-loss drug phentermine over the internet, and in many cases without a proper exam, authorities said.
The arrests come as the result of an investigation that begun in 2012 by the DEA and the Florida Attorney General’s Office of Statewide Prosecution.
The investigation found that Lancelot Fitzgerald James, who headed and operated the operation, which consisted of physicians, pharmacists, and a pharmacy technician, who distributed more than 2 million phentermine pills.
Evidence, which was gathered from 2012 through 2014, showed that the company ordered phentermine, which is classified as a schedule IV controlled substance -- from various distributors, then shipped the pills to patients throughout the United States.
Physicians working with the company used medical questionnaires submitted by patients on the internet to determine and approve patient prescriptions, the DEA reports. A few patients were screened using a "virtual examination" conducted on the internet.
"Telemedicine does not replace the physician-patient relationship in any way," DEA Miami Field Division Special Agent in Charge Adolphus P. Wright stated via a media release. "Anyone distributing controlled substances who does not follow long-standing and well-established medical guidelines will be subject to criminal prosecution."
Authorities said that physical examinations were never conducted in person and patients regularly received large quantities of addictive drugs. Some of the prescriptions were written and filled in the names of deceased patients and a child.
Patients paid for their illegal treatment with money orders, checks and credit card transactions, which were deposited into bank accounts controlled by James and other members of his business.
The DEA reports that more than $5 million of drug proceeds were laundered through over 28 bank accounts controlled by James' company, the investigation found. With that money, James and his wife, Sherri-Ann Thelwell-James, spent millions of dollars on real estate, luxury automobiles, lavish vacations, and other purchases.
About $300,000 in luxury cars were also seized by law enforcement agents, the DEA reports.
James and Thelwell-James have been arrested, along with Dr. Jean Mario Pierre, a physician; Adesumbo Adesioye, a pharmacist; Doretha Thomas Robinson, a pharmacist; and Claude Edward White, a pharmacy technician and owner of Tropical Pharmacy.
Additional arrests and asset seizures are anticipated.