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Federal judge hands down sentences in 'pill mill' operation with Columbus connection

Seven people involved in pill mills that operated in Columbus and Valdosta have been sentenced in federal court for their roles in the illegal enterprise, according to the U.S. Attorney's Office in the Middle District of Georgia.

Dr. William Bacon, 82 and Dr. Donatus O. Mbanefo 64, were sentenced Wednesday in Valdosta by Senior District Judge Hugh Lawson. Bacon was ordered to serve six years and forfeit over $95,000. Mbanefo was sentenced to eight years in prison.

On Thursday., Lawson sentenced co-conspirators  Carol Johnson-Biggs to eight years; Junior Biggs to more than seven years; Nilaja Biggs to three years; Shavonta Bright to three years probation; and Ionie Whorms to three years probation.

Evidence presented in the June trial showed that in June 2011, co-conspirators Carol Neema Biggs, also known as Carol Johnson; Nilija Biggs and Junior Alexander Biggs formed the Wellness Center of Valdosta to operate as a pain clinic. Dr. Bacon began working there in September 2011 and saw patients until the clinic closed.

A year later, Carol Neema Biggs and Junior Biggs opened another pain clinic in Columbus known as the Relief Institute of Columbus. The Relief Institute of Columbus employed a number of doctors but evidence at the trial showed that clinic operated in the same fashion as the Wellness Center of Valdosta. The Columbus Clinic was located at 2320 Hamilton Road.

“Opioid addiction is destroying lives in our communities at an ever-increasing rate. Doctors and medical professionals who profit from these illegal pill mills are doing serious harm to our society, and we will continue to work with our law enforcement partners to stop these lethal operations,” said Charles Peeler, the United States Attorney for the Middle District.

The evidence in the June trial of Bacon and Mbanefo showed that the clinic saw unrealistically large numbers of patients daily, accepted no forms of insurance or government benefits but took cash payments only of between $250 to $325 to see a patient,  offered a “VIP” line which allowed patients to be seen sooner by paying additional cash, according to a news release at the time.

The doctors at the clinic saw an abnormally large number of patients from out of state,  including some from as far away as Kentucky, Ohio, and West Virginia, who often traveled in groups to the clinic.  The evidence showed that the clinic offered no diagnostic testing, required only a paper MRI report, and that Dr. Bacon performed only cursory medical examinations, the evidence showed according to the news release.

No alternative treatments outside prescribing large quantities of a “cocktail” of pain medications and other controlled substances were offered to patients, according to evidence presented at trial.

The “cocktail” generally included such highly addictive controlled substances as Oxycodone and Xanax, but also included Hydromorphone, Hydrocodone, Soma, Valium and Ambien. A number of pharmacies and regulatory agencies called the clinic with concerns about the types and amounts of controlled substances prescribed, the evidence showed.

The agencies involved in the investigation included the Drug Enforcement Administration, the Georgia Bureau of Investigation and Internal Revenue Service – Criminal Investigation.



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