A Waycross physician who was named in a lawsuit in which Satilla Health Services paid the federal government an $840,000 settlement has been convicted of 51 felony charges in the operation of an illegal pill mill in Garden City, Ga.
A federal jury in Savannah convicted Najam Azmat, 57, last week of single counts of conspiring to prescribe oxycodone and other drugs without a legitimate medical purpose, conspiring to launder money and of 49 counts of illegally dispensing the drugs.
He faces up to 20 years in prison on each count.
While working at East Health Center between Feb. 21 and March 18, 2011, Azmat wrote prescriptions for 196 patients, 96 percent of whom received prescriptions for oxycodone, a strong and highly additive painkiller, the U.S. Attorney’s Office said.
Patients came from as far as Florida, Kentucky and Ohio and typically paid $300 to see Azmat or other physicians who came to work at East Health Center after Azmat left.
Azmat was paid $2,000, usually in cash, at the end of each work day.
Patients testified that they were addicted to oxycodone and learned of the Garden City pain clinic through marketing techniques at rival pill mills in Florida, the U.S. Attorney’s Office said.
The organizers of the clinic decided to open the clinic in Garden City because changes in Florida law restricted non-medical doctors from owning pain clinics, the U.S. attorney said.
Three other doctors who worked at the Garden City pill mill, Adelard LeFrancois III, 40, of Boca Raton, Francis J. Barbuscia, 37, of Plantation, and Kenneth Gossett, 52, of Rome, Ga., pleaded guilty to conspiracy to dispense drugs without a legitimate medical purpose.
Five others who organized or worked at the pill mill, although they had no medical training or expertise, have pleaded guilty. Sean Michael Clark, 34, and Adelaida M. Lizama, 28, both of Boca Raton, and Daniel John Wise, 35, of West Palm Beach, pleaded guilty to conspiracy charges. Candace Anne Carreras, 26, of Boca Raton, and Shelly Lynn Morford, 31, of Fort Lauderdale pleaded guilty to concealing knowledge of a felony.
None of them, including Azmat, have been sentenced.
Nuvest LLC, the Florida corporation that financed East Health Center’s startup, pleaded guilty to maintaining a drug-involved premises. As part of the plea agreement, Nuvest forfeited $2 million to the government.
Azmat went to work at the clinic after he and Satilla Health Services had been sued by Clarence Minter Jr. and others who claimed that Azmat injured them or family members while performing endovascular surgeries at the hospital.
Minter said that his wife, Ruth Annette Minter, 63, died 17 days after Azmat punched a hole in an artery as he installed a stent to restore blood flow.
Other suits asserted that a female patient was left bedridden and on dialysis after Azmat failed to prevent waste from her bowel from leaking into her abdominal cavity.
Another suit said Azmat dissected a patient’s arteries with a catheter and guide wire and then blamed the mistake on a kink in the woman’s arteries, which did not exist.
The U.S. Justice Department cited some of those claims when it filed suit in July 2010 against Satilla and Azmat. The government suit asserted that Satilla submitted Medicare claims for endovascular procedures that Azmat performed in the hospital’s Heart Center for which he was not qualified or credentialed.
The government said that procedures performed by Azmat were worthless, not medically necessary and had caused one death.
While denying the claims in the government’s suit, Satilla said it had agreed to the settlement that resulted in the dismissal of the government’s claims.
Satilla said it settled “to avoid further distraction and continued high cost of litigation.”
The Mayo Clinic has since taken over the administration of the Waycross hospital, operating it as Mayo Clinic Health System in Waycross.