Owner and Employees of Alleged Pill Mill Facing Federal Indictment for an Oxycodone Distribution Conspiracy | USAO-MD

Greenbelt, Maryland – A federal grand jury has indicted the owner and operator of a purported pain management clinic, as well as two nurse practitioners who were employed at the clinic, on the federal charges for conspiracy to distribute and dispense oxycodone and for distribution and dispensing of oxycodone.  Charged in the indictment are:

Joyce Shawanda Edwards, age 45, of Largo, Maryland;

Justina Aburime, age 53, of Bowie, Maryland; and

Thomas Charles Johnson, Jr., age 56, of Baltimore, Maryland.

The indictment was returned on March 3, 2021 and unsealed today at the initial appearances of the defendants.

The indictment was announced by Acting United States Attorney for the District of Maryland Jonathan F. Lenzner; Special Agent in Charge Jarod Forget of the Drug Enforcement Administration – Washington Division; and Special Agent in Charge Maureen Dixon, Office of Investigations, Office of Inspector General of the Department of Health and Human Services.

According to the eight-count indictment, from February 2017 to February 2020, Joyce Shawanda Edwards owned and operated Personal Touch Medical Spa, LLP (“PTMS”), formerly known as Holistic Health and Wellness Medical Spa LLP, a purported “pain management” clinic located in Largo, Maryland, which the indictment alleges was, in reality, a “pill mill.”   A pill mill is a health care provider’s office, clinic, or health care facility that routinely prescribes and dispenses controlled substances outside the scope of professional practice and without a legitimate medical purpose.  According to the indictment, Justina Aburime was a nurse practitioner who worked at PTMS from February 2017, until she left in August 2018, at which time Thomas Charles Johnson, Jr., who was also a nurse practitioner, began working at PTMS.  Aburime and Johnson were both authorized to prescribe controlled substances for legitimate medical purposes and in the course of professional practice. 

Specifically, the indictment alleges that Edwards, Aburime, and Johnson distributed and dispensed oxycodone that was not prescribed for a medical purpose or in the usual course of professional practice.  Edwards typically charged customers who came to PTMS a fee of $280 for an initial visit and $250 for any subsequent visit.  Although Edwards, Aburime, and Johnson allegedly required customers of PTMS to provide certain paperwork, generally a magnetic resonance imaging (“MRI”) report, a prescription history, and a “plan of care” purportedly signed by the customer’s primary care physician, to include in the customer’s patient file to support a false claim that there was a legitimate medical need for the prescription of oxycodone, the indictment alleges that the conspirators prescribed oxycodone even when the medical records revealed that there was no legitimate medical need for the prescription.  The conspirators allegedly directed customers to physical therapy and provided massages to create the false appearance that PTMS provided other treatment options to controlled substances.   

The indictment alleges that Aburime and Johnson pre-signed blank prescriptions, allowing Edwards to issue prescriptions for oxycodone under their names.  Further, the indictment alleges that even though Edwards was not authorized to prescribe controlled substances, she wrote and issued prescriptions for oxycodone using blank prescriptions that Edwards signed under the name of a nurse practitioner.  Edwards allegedly issued prescriptions for controlled substances at times when a nurse practitioner was not present and did not see the patient, including on dates when Aburime and Johnson were out of town.  Edwards, Aburime, and Johnson also allegedly: conducted cursory, incomplete, and inadequate medical examinations; prescribed controlled substances on the basis of diagnoses that were not corroborated by the medical record; increased the customer’s dosage over time without a medical justification; falsified urine drug test results for customers receiving oxycodone prescriptions; and permitted the customer to determine the drug type and dosage, rather than prescribing controlled substances according to legitimate medical need.  

The indictment also seeks the forfeiture of approximately $278,951.72, seized on July 11, 2019, after the execution of seizure warrants on bank accounts held in the name of Personal Touch Medical Spa, LLP. 

If convicted, the defendants each face a maximum sentence of 20 years for the conspiracy and for each count of distribution and dispensing of controlled substances.  Actual sentences for federal crimes are typically less than the maximum penalties.  A federal district court judge will determine any sentence after taking into account the U.S. Sentencing Guidelines and other statutory factors.

The defendants had an initial appearance today in U.S. District Court in Greenbelt and were ordered to be released under the supervision of U.S. Pretrial Services pending trial.

An indictment is not a finding of guilt.  An individual charged by indictment is presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty at some later criminal proceedings. 

Acting United States Attorney Jonathan F. Lenzner commended the DEA and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services – Office of Inspector General for their work in the investigation and thanked the Charles County Sheriff’s Office, the Prince George’s County Police Department, the Virginia State Police, and the Metropolitan Police Department for their assistance.  Mr. Lenzner thanked Assistant U.S. Attorneys Jessica C. Collins and Elizabeth Wright, who are prosecuting the case.

 

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